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Wal-Mart: Why Are We Paying Them to Underpay Their Workers?

Updated on April 14, 2014

In a statement released on November eighteenth 2013 The National Labor Relations Board (or NLRB) said, “"During two national television news broadcasts and in statements to employees at Walmart stores in California and Texas, Walmart unlawfully threatened employees with reprisal if they engaged in strikes and protests on November 22, 2012.Walmart stores in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington unlawfully threatened, disciplined, and/or terminated employees for having engaged in legally protected strikes and protests."

In response to the complaint Wal-Mart’s spokesperson, Brooke Buchanan said “We don't believe it's reasonable or okay for people to come and go from their scheduled shifts as part of a union-orchestrated PR move and not be held accountable," she said. "We take this very seriously and look forward to presenting our side."

This is just one of many complaints and legal actions against Wal-Mart. This particular incident involves over sixty workers. Nineteen of these workers claim to have been illegally terminated by Wal-Mart in direct retaliation for their participation in the nationally televised protests. The complaint accuses more than sixty supervisors and a Wal-Mart corporate officer of misconduct.

The NLRB did not issue an official complaint against Wal-Mart until January fifteenth 2014. According the NLRB website, “The Office of the General Counsel informed Walmart that complaints were authorized in November of 2013, but withheld issuing the complaints to allow time for settlement discussions. The discussions have not been successful and a consolidated complaint was issued regarding some of the alleged violations of federal law. More than 60 Walmart supervisors and one corporate officer are named in the complaint.”

About the same time the activist hacking group Anonymous leaked a power-point presentation that Wal-Mart used to teach its managers how to discourage workers from unionizing. This document included talking points of why Wal-Mart is a target for unions, early warning signs that workers may be considering organizing, and what mangers could say to workers about unions in the form of the acronym “FOE, Facts, Opinions, Experiences.”

The early warning signs of possible organization include: “Mentioning unions or union websites and commercials,” “Speaking negatively about wages and benefits,” “Asking for a witness to be present,” and “Associates ceasing conversations when leadership approaches.” All of these behaviors could be easily remedied by increasing wages and benefits but Wal-Mart chooses to spend their money on anti-union rhetoric and training.

The facts, opinions, and experiences section of the power point includes facts such as, “Unions spend members’ dues on things other than representing them,” “A union authorization card is a legally binding document,” and “Unions are a business, not a club or social organization – they want associates’ money.” The power point also gives examples of opinions that managers can share; like, “For a Wal-Mart associate, I think unions are a waste of money,” or “I don’t think we need a union at this Wal-Mart or any other Wal-Mart. I think the Open Door is a great way to deal with concerns,” or this gem “In my opinion, unions just want to hurt Wal-Mart and make it harder to run our business.” Yes, poor little Wal-Mart is being picked on by the big, bad unions that are hell-bent on making it hard for them to maintain their status quo.

Unions are not always the answer. Many companies like Starbucks, Microsoft and Google offer their employees health care coverage and competitive wages without the need for union intervention. These same companies have very loyal workers and make fantastic profits year in and year out. Unionization is only needed when an employer has a proven track record of abuse and it under pays its workers to the point of ridiculous.

Wal-Mart is just one example of many companies that use unethical and sometimes illegal practices to reduce their labor costs. Wal-Mart is a good example because it is the largest employer in America. With over 1.4 million workers Wal-Mart is one of the largest employers in U.S. history.

Senator Bernie Sander of Vermont recently raised some troubling facts at a congressional panel meeting. The senator claimed that Wal-Mart pays such low wages that many of their workers end up on government assistance. A recent study by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce backs that claim up. The study focused on Wal-mart employees in the state of Wisconsin because it is one of the only states that releases information on how many workers are enrolled in its public health care and it breaks the numbers down by employer.

According to the study there were nine thousand two hundred seven Wal-Mart employees and their dependents enrolled in the Wisconsin public health care program at the end of 2012. Wisconsin taxpayers end up paying around $904,000 in government assistance annually for the average Wal-Mart supercenter. When you consider that there are three thousand two hundred seventy-five supercenters in the U.S. the cost to American taxpayers becomes very large, very quickly (Gufstafson, Krystina). If the numbers in Wisconsin run true throughout the United States, taxpayers pay about $2,960,600,000 so that Wal-Mart can continue to underpay their employees –and that’s just for supercenters. That estimate does not include the additional 902 non supercenter, Wal-Mart stores in America. Wal-Mart costs taxpayers in the U.S. over three billion dollars a year.

It is unethical for Wal-Mart to pay so little to its workers that they are forced to use government assistance just to provide for their families. It is outrageous that a corporation that has made the Walton family the richest family in America only pays its workers an average of $8.80 an hour! The Walton family is worth one hundred billion dollars. The six Walton heirs have more wealth than the bottom forty two percent of Americans combined, but their company can’t pay a worker more $14,000 per year.

This problem is, purely and simply, caused by greed. Companies can pay their workers a good wage and still be successful. According to Robert Reich, a University of California-Berkley professor of public policy and former Labor Secretary, the nation’s largest employer has paid far more in the past. Reich said that in 1955, “the largest employer was General Motors, and it was paying its workers, in today’s dollars, $37 an hour.” Reich also said that Wal-Mart’s employees needing to receive so much government assistance is, “corporate welfare of the worst kind.”

There is another issue at work here. If so many of Wal-Mart’s employees are being subsidized by the government that would make Wal-Mart a recipient of government assistance. No company that posts seventeen billion dollars in profits needs assistance – in fact they should be assisting others. That is not the only way that Wal-Mart receives government aid. Last year fourteen billion dollars’ worth of food stamps were spent in Wal-Mart stores. That is eighteen percent of all the foods stamps issued.

When you take into account that most of Wal-Mart’s employees are receiving food stamps, and that nearly every Wal-Mart employee shops at Wal-Mart because of the employee discount, you can see why Wal-Mart is so resistant to raising their wages. The company would stand to lose all but three billion dollars of their seventeen billion in profits if their workers were not receiving food stamps plus they would lose the money that they were paying in higher wages. Right now they have their employees right where they want them; dependent on the company and the government.

This behavior is unconscionable and needs to be stopped. It is a twisted kind of capitalism that preys on the little people and on the government that seeks to assist them. People deserve to be paid a fair wage, especially by a company that is so wealthy. American taxpayers should be outraged that they are subsidizing Wal-Mart to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a year. The only way to make a difference is if the people who know what is happening spread the word, write their congressmen and senators, and stop spending their money at the stores of a predatory corporation.

Do you think it would hurt or help the economy for Wal-Mart to pay their workers enough to keep them off of government assistance?

See results


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Berman, Jillian. "Walmart Is One Of The Biggest Beneficiaries Of Food Stamps." The Huffington Post., 31 Oct. 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2014.

Dreier, Peter. "Walmart Workers Will Make History on Friday as America Confronts Growing Inequality." The Huffington Post., 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.

"Fortune 500 2013: Annual Ranking of America's Largest Corporations from Fortune Magazine." CNNMoney. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.

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Fox, Emily J. "U.S. Charges Wal-Mart over Protesting Workers." CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 15 Jan. 2014. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.

Gettys, Travis. "Bernie Sanders Rips Walmart: Why Should Taxpayers Subsidize ‘starvation Wages’? | The Raw Story." Bernie Sanders Rips Walmart: Why Should Taxpayers Subsidize ‘starvation Wages’? | The Raw Story., 17 Jan. 2014. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.

Gufstafson, Krystina. "Time to Close Wal-Mart Stores? Analysts Think so." N.p., 31 Jan. 2014. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.

"Just How Wealthy Is the Wal-Mart Walton Family?" PolitiFact Wisconsin., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.

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Tietjen, Denali. "NLRB: Walmart Threatened, Fired Workers for Black Friday Protests (+video)." The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, 18 Nov. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.


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