Wal-Mart workers prepare to strike

The company faces uncomfortable questions about how it treats employees ahead of the important holiday season.

By Jonathan Berr Nov 21, 2012 12:32PM
The planned strike this week by workers at Wal-Mart (WMT) couldn't come at a worse time for the world's largest retailer.

It is under pressure from Wall Street to improve its lackluster sales ahead of the important holiday season. Wal-Mart, the country's largest private-sector employer, has battled efforts by unions to organize its workforce for years, and has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board to stop the labor action aided by the United Food and Commercial Workers International.   Media reports say that a decision by the NLRB isn't expected before Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday.   Union-backed OUR Walmart, has fired back at the company, accusing it of "illegally attempting to deter workers from participating in strikes against the world's largest retailer on Friday," according to Reuters.
But even if it wins the latest battle, the Bentonville, Ark., company may lose the war over the long term as tries to protect its brand.

The company brags about its low prices. But many shoppers probably don't think much about how Wal-Mart makes this slogan a reality, which may start happening given the publicity the strike is getting. The average Wal-Mart associate earns about $8.81 an hour, or a yearly wage of about $15,500, meaning that hundreds of thousands of the company's workers live below the poverty line, according to unions. Wal-Mart store in Secaucus, New Jersey / Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Our Walmart is seeking wages of $13 per hour, and is calling on the company to make full-time jobs available for employees who want them. The company disputes these characterizations and says on its website that it offers "competitive wages, good benefits and the chance to grow and build a career."

States worried about the growing costs of Medicaid have pressued Wal-Mart for years to improve worker benefits. In response, the company offered some benefits to those working less than 24 hours per week, only to reverse course last year and decree that new part-time employees would no longer get benefits and that people working 24 hours to 33 hours a week can no longer include their spouses in their coverage, though children are allowed.

Data from unions indicates that Wal-Mart employees are the largest recipients of government assistance among those that are employed in a huge number of states. That means that taxpayers are on the hook for these benefits to the tune of more than $1 billion.

Though it's unlikely the strike will put a dent in Wal-Mart's profits, some customers may start to wonder whether the company's low prices are worth the costs born by its employees.

--Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks.  Story is updated to provide details on the possible timing of a strike. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.


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628Comments
Nov 21, 2012 1:27PM
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Capitalism works every time. Job doesnt pay enough? Quit. Walmart doesnt pay enough to get workers, wages go up.
     Walmart should fire anyone that doesnt show up for work. Unions be damned. Same way with the upcoming airline strike. The airlines know its coming, so they need to get some workers in queue.  Strike happens, can em.
      I have real news for the union organizer in the white house and all the union officials that have migrated into power with Obama.  WE the PEOPLE  build the US. Unions didnt, entrepreneurs  did.  Government didnt, Citizens did.
      I know of nothing in the constitution that says the government shall coerce private employers to accept employment mandates. I believe thats called Fascism. Eliminate Unions, Watch employment opportunities increase as jobs come back to the US. Price of goods and materials drop as efficiency increases. Do away with all govt unions and watch services improve and taxpayer cost drop.
    Someone has to throw down the gauntlet, It might as well be the employers. Entrepreneurial spirit built the country, thats what it will take to staighten it out.
Nov 21, 2012 1:24PM
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Our family has always tried to help make the Holidays good for everyone, including workers stranded behind counters and cash registers instead of home with family and/or friends. We DO NOT Patronize ANY business or entity on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years,  Easter, or Labor Day (except Churches). If We-The-Customer stay away and boycott businesses on Holidays, the message will be much clearer than any Union or disgruntled  employee's efforts. Just Stay Away!
Nov 21, 2012 1:19PM
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These employees are easily replaced. No skill set or education required. It's a good thing to see the unions lose membership every year. Thank god we have alternatives to union made.
Nov 21, 2012 1:18PM
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They walk out..FIRE THEM.. They dont want to work there.
Nov 21, 2012 1:03PM
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Wal Marts profits=SCREW THEIR LOW LEVEL EMPLOYEES !  HAPPY BLACK FRIDAY WAL MART ENJOY YOUR PROFITS' ! MADE IN CHINA =LOWEST POSSIBLE QUALITY TO CONSUMERS AND MAXIMUM PROFIT FOR THE COMPANY !

Nov 21, 2012 1:00PM
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richest family in the world can't pay their workers a decent wage?
Nov 21, 2012 12:59PM
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It's about time. Could there be anything more anti-American than Wal-Mart and their insane business model? Wal-Mart forces themselves into communities. Local small businesses cannot compete and end up working for this pariah business for peanuts. History will show that Wal-Mart contributed more to the downward slide of America than any other entity. If the strike is not met with instant cooperation by direct management (not the retained Law Goons), then SHUT IT DOWN. If stalling continues-- DIVEST THEM. We can re-purpose their big boxes or dismantle them and use the materials to restore Main Street. What kind of demonic anti-American invests in a nation killer?
Nov 21, 2012 12:48PM
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As a Walmart shareholder, I want everyone of those that do not show up for work FIRED.   And their employment records to show they are unreliable, union organizers.

I am sure someone else will gladly take their place.


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