8/9/2013 2:56 PM ET|
Wal-Mart launches counterattack on The Nation
But in jabbing at the magazine's wages for its interns, the retailer confuses seasonal student laborers with full-time workers.
If that retailer is Wal-Mart (WMT), it goes something like this: Hey, look over there!
On Wednesday, Wal-Mart announced a settlement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration stemming from incidents involving employees who use trash compactors and cleaning chemicals at more than 2,800 stores, as part of an agreement with the Labor Department. The retailer plans to improve conditions at 2,857 Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores in 28 states that follow federal OSHA standards. The 22 states that operate their own OSHA inspection programs could negotiate similar agreements.
Wal-Mart also agreed to pay a $190,000 fine to fix hazards discovered during an OSHA inspection at a store in Rochester, N.Y.
But that's not what Wal-Mart wanted to talk about Wednesday morning, when Steven Restivo, a senior director of communications at Wal-Mart, sent out an email directed at left-leaning publication The Nationunder the subject line "people who live in glass houses . . ."
Restive was responding to The Nation's open letter to Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke and the board of directors demanding that Wal-Mart start paying its workers a minimum wage of $12 an hour. It included an online petition that readers can sign. Restivo, in turn, pointed to a recent ProPublica report indicating that this fall, "interns at the Nation Institute will be paid minimum wage for the first time in the history of the 30-year-old program."
As ProPublica noted, The Nation has been paying its full-time interns a weekly stipend of $150 per week -- less than the current federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hour.
That followed a letter written to The Nation by its interns asking itto "take the lead" in redefining the standards for the industry and pay its interns what they believe they deserve.
It's part of a continued move away from the free internship model that other media companies employ. But there are differences between Wal-Mart wages and Nation internships that stretch beyond the paycheck.
Nation interns generally aren't supporting families, but they do get free housing, monthly bus and subway cards, and scholarships. The interns are also paid for any writing they do for The Nation's magazine or website.
There are also only 12 of them. By contrast, Wal-Mart employs 1.4 million workers throughout the U.S., making it the country's largest private-sector employer. It also employs more than a quarter of the 4.3 million people who currently hold the country's most common job of retail salesperson.
Wal-Mart's full-time employees -- as opposed to The Nation's part-time, temporary interns -- earn an average of $12 or $13 an hour. That's about $25,000, or just above poverty level for a family of four. However, a report by IBISWorld, an independent market research group, indicates that the average Wal-Mart worker makes only $8.81 per hour. That's $15,576 a year for full-time workers.
So Duke's basic assertion is that his company pays full-time members of the workforce $2 to $6 an hour more than students trying to get their first experience through a limited-time position. Students who, by and large, don't have to pay for housing, transportation or family expenses. Is that really the withering comeback he was looking for?
With the union-supported OUR Wal-Mart employee group increasing pressure on the company and OSHA breathing down its neck, probably not. In fact, Wal-Mart employees issued an open letter of their own to the retailer after the OSHA settlement announcement. If Wal-Mart executives took their noses out of The Nation long enough to read it, they might have learned something about their own labor issues.
"We hope that today’s settlement sends a message to Wal-Mart that cutting corners on safety comes at great costs, not just to employees, but also to the company," the OUR Wal-Mart statement read.
It added: "Moreover, Wal-Mart needs to go beyond the settlement, start listening to its workers, and investigate its stores throughout the country to see if these violations are widespread and where they find violations, fix them. These issues are about the very basic right employees have to work in safe environments."
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