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 5:12PM

I Would LOVE to be able to not shop at Wal-Mart, but even though I work full time I cannot afford to shop anywhere else. I went to the store to get a bottle of McCormacks pumpkin pie spice, Wal-mart was out, so I had to go to Piggly Wiggly, The price at Wal-mart was $4.29, the price at Piggly Wiggly $5.39. Why should I pay more for the same item. I, like many other Americans, need to make my pay check stretch as far as I can and unfortunatly, Wal-mart makes it easier to do just that. I am not saying I agree with the business practices and not offering insurance, but SOMETHING needs to happen in thei country of ours so people are not so dependant on government handouts. How about we bring the cost of living down to a respectable amount so we can all afford to live and not have to keep raising wages. When wages go up, so does the cost of products. It is a vicious circle.  


Nov 21, 2012 5:11PM

Really??? $13/hr? to stock a shelf / sweep a floor. A cashier maybe a little more than $8 since they are accountable for money, but still all they do is scan a bar code and if the machine stalls call a manager because they aren't trained to do anything but scan. As for the two people on the news they don't quit because they can't get another job. And if they did get a union they would have to pay union dues ie the extra money they got would go there

  On anothere note I rarely shop at walmart because what I buy is no cheaper there than target or any retail or food store..

Walmart drives hard and keeps the economy efficient.  They like the rest of the private economy have succeeded despite anything the government has done.

Quit demanding more tampering with business you greedy envious victim minded leeches.

Nov 21, 2012 5:09PM
Wow...  Are the monkeys trying to run the zoo or what?  Find another gig if you do not want to work the hours.  Why did you take the job in the first place?  Don't fret... The government will take care of you.  Everybody else who has to work will take up your slack!
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.
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