Walmart’s raise for workers “proof collective action works”

Walmart announced today it was giving its lowest-wage workers a raise to at least $9 an hour by April and $10 an hour by 2016. The retailer’s action comes after Walmart workers have been increasingly vocal and active over Walmart’s low pay, benefits, working conditions and treatment on the job.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the announcement is “a victory for all the brave workers and activists who are standing up to the country’s largest employer and demanding more. It is powerful proof that collective action is the strongest strategy available to make life better for working families,” the leader of the nation’s largest labor federation declared. 

Christine L. Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), also credited the workers’ mobilization for finally moving Walmart to raise wages. “The announcement is clearly the result of years of organizing by Walmart employees,” she said. “

Few could have envisioned a group of workers forcing Walmart, ruthlessly committed to cost-cutting, to unilaterally raise wages. But, standing together, Walmart employees have done just that, providing inspiration to worker movements everywhere.”

“Stagnant and low wages have been a huge burden on working families and a drag on the economy for years,” added Trumka. “For years Walmart has kicked and screamed that raising wages was not a feasible business model.” But, he added further: “With one short announcement, Walmart has shown that raising wages is both possible and attainable and only the start of a long-term effort to create family sustaining jobs.” 

Holly Sklar, chief executive of the Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, told The New York Times;

“It’s important that our nation’s largest private employer is finally beginning to follow many other companies in raising starting pay. But given that the buying power of the 1968 federal minimum wage is nearly $11 adjusted for inflation, Walmart should be setting higher targets than $9 in April 2015 and $10 in 2016.”

The celebratory mood over the victory does not mean Walmart workers themselves are satisfied, either. Indications are that they will mobilize perhaps harder than ever to continue their fight for $15 an hour which, they say, is closer to the living wage they need.

“We are so proud that by sticking together we won raises for 500,000 Walmart workers.,” said Emily Wells, a Walmart worker who has been active with OUR Walmart, which stands for Organization United for Respect at Walmart. She said the workers “desperately need better pay and regular hours from the company we make billions for. As a soon-to-be mom making only $9.50 an hour, it’s difficult to make ends meet with my part time schedule, which gives me only 26 hours per week. With $16 billion in profits and $150 billion in wealth for the owners, Walmart can afford the good jobs that America needs – and that means $15 an hour, full-time consistent schedules and respect for our hard work.”

“While this news is a major victory,” Trumka said in his statement, “it also shines a light on the broader problems in our economy, and the lengths we must go to ensure that all workers prosper from the wealth we create.”

“Collective action must be at the heart of the growing discussion about raising wages,” said Eric Hauser, the AFL-CIO’s communications director. “Only when workers pool their power can they make progress that benefits not just union members but all workers and entire communities.”

He said that such collective action has resulted not just in the progress at Walmart but in other victories recently. “What a difference a day makes,” Hauser said. “In the past 24 hours, Walmart workers got a raise, IBEW and CWA workers settled their strike with FairPoint and the United Steelworkers made safety at oil refineries a national issue. One 24 hour period shows how much progress can be made when workers come together to speak with one voice.”

Photo: OURWalmart Facebook page