OPINION: Income inequality and Walmart

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ALWAYS LOW WAGES, ALWAYS: Walmart workers fighting to get the retail giant to publicly commit to raising wages and increasing access to full-time hours. – Reuters/John Gress photo
ALWAYS LOW WAGES, ALWAYS: Walmart workers fighting to get the retail giant to publicly commit to raising wages and increasing access to full-time hours.
– Reuters/John Gress photo

‘Too many union families, trying to make paychecks stretch, are shopping there’

By DAVID COOK, RON POWELL

and STEVE STRAHER

While many politicians, academics and economists agree that our country’s growing divide between the rich and poor is bad for the economy and our society as a whole, there is only so much they can do.

As more and more workers take to the streets here in St. Louis and around the nation to demand better wages and benefits, big players in the business world must take responsibility for their role in creating our country’s wealth gap.

There is no company more responsible for creating and exacerbating income inequality through its low-wage, part-time business practices than Walmart – our country’s largest private employer.

Cook
COOK 

At the company's own admission, the majority of Walmart’s 1.4 million workers are paid less than $25,000 a year. That means that too many Walmart workers are struggling to cover the basic necessities like food and shelter and are forced to rely on taxpayer funded supports like food stamps to survive.

Walmart can afford to pay its workers more, but simply refuses to do so.

The company makes around $16 billion a year in profits, and just six members of the Walton Family, heirs to the Walmart empire and the richest family in America, have a combined family fortune that is estimated to be nearly $149 billion. Their net worth is greater than the wealth held by 42 percent of American families combined.

Powell
POWELL

And this year, the Waltons will collect more than $3.1 billion in Walmart dividends – which is more than $8.6 million every day.

UFCW Local 655 in St. Louis and UFCW Local 881 and in Southern Illinois represent workers at Schnucks, Dierbergs and Shop ’N Save food stores as well as a host of other non-food industry companies. Under a union contract, our members have a livable wage, health insurance and other benefits that Walmart workers can only dream about.

 

Things are so bad for the workers at Walmart that a number of brave employees have formed their own organization – OUR Walmart — that is fighting to get the retail giant to publicly commit to raising wages and increasing access to full-time hours so that no worker at Walmart makes less than $25,000 per year. Our locals fully support their efforts.

YOUR HELP IS CRITICAL

But these workers can’t do it alone. They need the help of the entire labor movement.

Straher
STRAHER

How? By not shopping at Walmart or Sam’s, and encouraging your family and friends to do the same. Too many union families, trying to make paychecks stretch, are shopping there. That only exacerbates the problem for those Walmart workers.

Until Walmart feels the pinch in their pocketbook, they will continue to ignore their employees and consider them simply another commodity in the store. Help us help them. They, too, deserve better wages.

As economic and social unrest continues to rise to dangerous levels, Walmart can and must lead by example and change its business practices so that all Walmart workers and their families can make ends meet.  Until that happens, workers will continue to speak out for better wages and respect on the job.

We urge union members and their families to do their part:

PLEASE DON’T SHOP WALMART OR SAM’S.

(David Cook is president of UFCW Local 655; Steve Straher is president of Meat Cutters Local 88 and Ron Powell is president of UFCW Local 881 in Southern Illinois.)

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