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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Tags: WMT
Nov 21, 2012 5:08PM
I wish people would stop bashing WalMart.  It's not my favorite store, but it serves a purpose, especially in this economy.  You can buy things there cheaper than anywhere else... which is a very nice option to have these days.  Plus, there are people employed in WalMarts across the country who otherwise would not have a job at all; and WalMart DOES offer benefits, contrary to popular, media-driven belief.  OK, the wages are a bit low, but so are wages paid at lots of retailers, fast food outlets, lawn care companies, pest control companies, you name it.  In retail alone, Target, Best Buy, KMart, Sears, and many others  - none of them pay awesome wages, but no one seems to be picking on them.  All those stores are opening at one time or another on Thanksgiving, but you don't hear them being attacked for it.  Besides, the real blame for all of this is you, the shopper.  No one would open on Thanksgiving unless shoppers showed up, and as for wages - well, if companies paid more, prices would go up, and then you'd bitch about that.  So, people, put you money where you mouth is - don't shop until , say, 9:00 a.m. on Black Friday - and don't complain about higher prices if stores have to pay more and give more benefits to their workers.  There's no free lunch, people!
Nov 21, 2012 5:08PM
Nobody can live on $8 an hour anymore, unless you live in a grass hut.  $8 an hour won't feed a family of 3.
Nov 21, 2012 5:06PM
I have worked for Walmart for 11 years now. Although I started at $8 an hour as a department manager, I worked hard and now make $21 an hour and Walmart has put $28K into my 401k for me. The medical benefits might suck, but I managed to get married, have one child, a 4 year old car, and bought a house 2 years ago on only my paycheck without any government assistance. Anyone can do it without wasting money on an iPhone, Xbox, etc. Live within your means!
Nov 21, 2012 5:03PM
By the way, whoever takes over the twinkies patent, I hope they get the old one because twinkies suck nowadays!
Nov 21, 2012 5:02PM
staying away from wal mart won't work....after paying $19.95 for jeans, we are not going back to 100 dollar per pair union made jeans ever. We will shop somewhere else. If the Chinese don't make those jeans to sell at 19.95 there are Vietnamese, and Cambodian factories, waiting to sell us jeans cheaper than our union made jeans cost...so it's not wal mart and not China, IT IS YOU. You must be willing to pay substantially more for American made goods, putting you and your salary where??? Right back to the levels of the so called underpaid Wal Mart employee.
Nov 21, 2012 5:02PM
In my opinion anybody who goes on strike should be FIRED.  It shouldn't be too hard to find replacements for them as there are millions of people who are out of work and would do ANYTHING, even work on holidays! Every application I have ever filled out asks if I am willing to work holidays. Did you people complaining about working black friday get asked the same thing? And did you say yes? Then shut the hell up and go to work lest you want walmart to go out of business then you'll be out of work too and the real b**ching will begin.... I personlly hate unions,  I was part of a union once and all they did was take all my money. I work to MAKE money, not to give it all away.....
Nov 21, 2012 4:57PM
It's like the old Domino Effect in the Far East. North Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam....General Motors, Hostess, Walmart...and finally, America.
Nov 21, 2012 4:55PM
It is simple math. If Wal-Mart paid their workers living wages - they are asking for $13.00 / hour, then less of their employees would require government assistance like food stamps.

So the truly CONSERVATIVE view on this should be for Wal-Mart to pay the workers enough so they can afford basic necessities. Why should tax payers have to support low wage workers because of a company's greed?

Nov 21, 2012 4:54PM
Oh poor me, I am a victim, I work for Walmart. They enslaved me.
Nov 21, 2012 4:54PM

Go to work at Walmart (part-time), get food stamps, medicaid, free cell phone and service, and if we're lucky, relax and watch the SEC kick the s_h_i_t out of Notre Dame in Miami.


Nov 21, 2012 4:54PM
soon, former union thugs @ hostess will be joining walmart workers in the break room. 15 minutes vs 2 hours though. pass the mashed potatoes.....
Nov 21, 2012 4:52PM

STRIKE..........you will be Glad you did it....in the LONG run...! Unionize.....WalMart would do it.....Beleive THAT!


We as Customers just shop their for Convenience......I have always NOTICED how they work the **** out of their workers. Some of those folks bust their **** for no benefits and WalMart has made a million dollars off of them. 

Nov 21, 2012 4:51PM
Here's a thought.  If you don't like the low pay at Wal Mart, don't work at Wal Mart.  All retail stores pay similar wages.  Similar to fast food restaurants and other entry level positions.  I worked at some of these places when I went to school, but when I graduated I left and got a better job in my career field.  I remember middle aged adults at each of the places I worked always complaining about everything they could think of, and even as a young guy, I knew then that they were just mad that they had made decisions in their life that led them to their situation.  If you don't like making $8.81/HR, then do something that qualifies you to deserve more.  Many people depend on Wal Mart's low prices to survive.  Common sense tells you if they are forced to pay ore for labor, they will be forced to pass on those costs to the consumer.     
Nov 21, 2012 4:50PM
People like to pounce on Walmart for paying its workers such a low wage but they patronize Walmart in huge numbers.  You can lie to yourselves, you can write how you choose other retailers, but the numbers don't lie.  Majority of people use Walmart, almost all people who make 50k or less and live near a Walmart, use Walmart.  If the cost of their goods went up due to an increase in wages, again this is not a question,  most of you would no longer go to Walmart.
Nov 21, 2012 4:50PM
Why don't you guys siding with the employees open your own business and close it when you want to?  Until then walmart can open whenever they please - after all it is still a free country isn't it?
Nov 21, 2012 4:48PM
I would pay a little more for items if it meant higher wages and better benefits for the people who stock the shelves so I can buy, the people who unload the trucks at night, for the lady who cleans up vomit and feces so I have a clean restroom to use, for the myriad of people that make Walmart successful - and I don't mean the fat cat business suit, I mean the folks that REALLY make Walmart work, the hourly worker who does work tirelessly. It is not only Walmart Corporate greed but the greed in every person who shops there. In order for this to change, we have to be willing to pay the price. If that means paying 10 more cents for something, then that is what needs to happen. Think about this for a minute, on an average daily basis any given store sells roughly 150 cans of soup for say .98 - $147 a day in just soup but they have over 4,500 stores - using that figure Walmart makes $661,500 in soup in ONE day, $240,786,000 a year. Lets say we pay $1.08 a can - that is roughly $67,500 a day in extra profit that could be passed onto the hourly associates. Just raising the price on a can of soup .10 Walmart could be passing on $24,570,000 yearly to their associates. For my family, it would mean an additional .80 a month in soup costs - seems a small price to pay to help our fellow mankind. Of course, Walmart would need to be willing to actually pass the revenue on to their associates. For this to actually happen, the American people would need to understand that we are all responsible for low wages. (I am no math wiz, so if someone sees my figures are wrong, by all mean please correct it)
Nov 21, 2012 4:47PM

I have known for YEARS that Wal-mart is not the company it was when it's founder was alive.  The low prices are also attributed to the fact that when a company signs on with selling their merchandise to Wal-Mart - they are required to cut their pricing by a certain percentage in a certain amount of time - then again and again - - no wonder many companies are forced to mover overseas???


When I found this out - I stopped shopping at Wal-mart.  Honestly, that is the ONLY way they are going to stop this practice - if the consumer say ENOUGH!!  Bottom line and how much green is in their pocket, that is all they care about


Nov 21, 2012 4:47PM
I don't know what the union benefits, except costing the part-time employees more money.  My daughter worked for a grocery store, made minimum wage, no benefits (they did not hire anyone except managers full time), and yet had to pay a huge chunk of change to the union. She was trying to make it on her own - all she wanted was full-time hours.  But they couldn't offer her full-time hours because then she would have benefits.
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