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'They Obviously Can Afford to': Workers Call On Walmart To Raise Minimum Wage to $15 an Hour

As the Walton Family continues amassing greater wealth from Walmart’s success, employees at Walmart retail stores struggle with poverty, low wages, and larger workloads due to understaffing

 Walmart also has a reputation for wage theft. Its the leading wage theft employer in the United States, with more than $1.4 billion paid in wage theft fines and settlements since 2000. (Photo: Michael Sainato)

 Walmart also has a reputation for wage theft. Its the leading wage theft employer in the United States, with more than $1.4 billion paid in wage theft fines and settlements since 2000. (Photo: Michael Sainato)

The World’s largest retailer, Walmart, is far behind its competitors when it comes to a minimum wage; Amazon announced an increase to $15 an hour in October 2018, Target is scheduled to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020, and Costco already pays a minimum wage of $14 an hour. With a minimum wage of $11 an hour, Walmart workers are calling on the giant retailer to raise the company minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“Walmart should pay us $15 an hour because they obviously can afford to and the amount of work they are having us do is every bit worth $15 an hour,” Cierra Harrington, a Walmart associate in New Bern, North Carolina who has worked at the retailer for five years, told me. She makes $11.50 an hour.

Despite working at Walmart for five years, Harrington is one of more than 500,000 Walmart employees kept under part-time classification as a cost-saving measure; Walmart’s full-time U.S. workers have decreased from 80 percent in 2005 to an estimated 50 percent in 2018. “I would be in a much more stable living situation if I was making $15 an hour,” Harrington added. “I wouldn't have to choose between paying late on the rent to pay the light bill or vice versa, or having to be on food stamps to be able to put food on the table for me and my child.”

Last month, on October 16, members of OUR Walmart, a non-profit group that provides support for Walmart employees, confronted company executives at the Walmart annual shareholder meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas and held protests outside of Walmart offices in Silicon Valley. Ahead of the shareholder’s meeting, Walmart employees handed out fliers to participants outlining the company’s reputation as a low-wage leader in comparison to its competitors.

“Instead of spending $20B on share buybacks over the next period, Walmart should be investing in associates to enable the company to effectively compete with Amazon, fix its reputation and improve associate morale,” the pamphlet read. Walmart executives did not respond to Our Walmart’s questions and calls for a $15 minimum wage at the meeting, which the group has intensified with the support of Senator Bernie Sanders since Amazon’s $15 minimum wage announcement.

“We estimate that the cost to WalMart to raise wages to $15 an hour would be around $3.8 billion a year,” Ken Jacobs, chair of the University of California at Berkeley Labor Center, told me in an email. “Close to 1 million workers would receive wage increases.”

Walmart last increased their minimum wage in January 2018 to $11 an hour, an announcement which included employee bonuses up to $1000 each, citing the Trump tax cut as the driver of the increases. Only employees with at least 20 years of service would receive the full $1000 bonus. Less than 24 hours after Walmart touted bonuses and wage increases, they announced the closure of 63 Sam’s Club stores resulting in the layoff of over 10,000 workers. Walmart’s expected savings from the Trump tax cut is $2.2 billion, but less than one-third of that is likely to go toward bonuses and wage increases.

Walmart also has a reputation for wage theft. Its the leading wage theft employer in the United States, with more than $1.4 billion paid in wage theft fines and settlements since 2000, according to a June 2018 report by Good Jobs First. The report noted it is the only retailer in top 25 most penalized companies in the United States.

Though Walmart lags behind other retail competitors on wages, the largest retail corporation in the World with an annual revenue of around $500 billion, shows no signs of slowing down in boosting the wealth of the company’s founding family, the Waltons. Walmart’s 2nd quarterly earnings this year alone boosted the Walton Family’s fortune by $11.6 billion, maintaining their spot as the wealthiest family in the world, according to Bloomberg’s wealthiest families list.

As the Walton Family continues amassing greater wealth from Walmart’s success, employees at Walmart retail stores struggle with poverty, low wages, and larger workloads due to understaffing. The median salary for Walmart employees is just over $19,000 a year.

“We are overworked and underpaid. Most nights I cover 8 departments at once, half the store by myself and I’m still expected to get freight done on top of taking care of customers and 8 different departments,” said Emeraid Gems, a full-time Walmart associate in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania who makes $11.22 an hour after 8 years with the company. In regards to a $15 minimum wage increase, Gems explained, “it would make it easier to make ends meet, pay bills, and still have something to set aside for things that pop up like car trouble or medical bills.”

For Madeleine Chambers, she spent much of the past two years she’s worked at a Gastonia, North Carolina Walmart homeless with her two children because she couldn’t afford to make ends meet on $11 an hour. “We were homeless for a while. Now we’re staying in federal housing, but its still not enough for bills, and I have two kids. $11 an hour is not enough when you have kids,” Chambers said.

James Collins, a six-year associate at a Dallas, Texas Walmart making $11 an hour added, “you hear stuff about the economy being so great, but it's not because most jobs are low paying and people have trouble making it paycheck to paycheck. This impacts the quality of life across the country and people need to take a stand.”

A Walmart spokesperson told me in an email, “We have increased our starting wages by more than 50 percent in the last three years while also adding new benefits like paid time off, advanced job training, paid family leave and college for $1 a day. In addition, our associates continue to earn quarterly cash bonuses – more than $625 million last year alone. We have been very deliberate about our job offerings and we will continue listening to our people and investing in the training, benefits and wages that they tell us are important.”

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Michael Sainato

Michael Sainato

Michael Sainato is a Florida-based journalist focusing on environmental and civil rights issues.

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