Walmart: The eyes of the nation are on you!

Gun control advocates massed Jan. 15 at a Walmart store a few miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School to demand the company stop selling rifles of the type the military uses in Afghanistan. Among the protesters were the parents of some of the slaughtered children.

While Walmart was dealing with the bad publicity there, the company’s CEO Bill Simon was still busy trying to gin up some positive publicity for the retail behemoth on another front – job creation. Simon said, at a National Retail Federation conference, that beginning Memorial Day, Walmart would offer honorably discharged veterans jobs. He promised to hire 100,000 vets over the next five years but did not say whether the jobs would be full-time or offer any decent benefits.

At the same meeting he tried to shore up the company’s reputation for mistreating its workers, made known to the American public over the last two decades through demonstrations, marches and even lawsuits by Walmart workers claiming all kinds of abuse and mistreatment on the job.

Simon announced yesterday that the company would have “more transparency” in its scheduling system “so part time workers can choose more hours for themselves.”

On the company’s promise to hire more veterans, the labor movement says it has problems with greeting veterans returning to civilian life after defending the nation with $8.81 an hour part-time jobs with no benefits.

“Previous generations of workers returned from service and started careers in manufacturing, construction and/or public service,” said James Gilbert, director of the AFL-CIO Union Veterans Council. “They went from defending America to building America.

“The announcement by Walmart to hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years should be applauded, but is in need of context.

“Will these jobs be ones with wages, benefits and workplace rights at a level that matches the skill set and dignity of service of these new hires?” Gilbert asked. “Will these be the types of jobs that afford brave service persons with the ability to own a home, raise a family and retire with dignity?”

Walmart’s other promise yesterday to give workers more input into their schedules is also being met by employees with a good deal of skepticism.

A Walmart worker at the new Walmart in Chicago’s West Loop said, “Even if they really follow through on that they haven’t promised to do anything else about all the other problems – the disgracefully low salaries, the lousy benefits and all the other stuff that goes on all the time.”

Christopher Owen, a Walmart worker who served in the U.S. Navy for two years and works now for Walmart in Tulsa, Okla. told the Nation yesterday, “If that’s the best that’s available for veterans, then there is something wrong.”

Owen, like thousands of Walmart workers across the country, has joined OUR Walmart, an organization of Walmart workers struggling to win improved conditions for workers at the chain’s stores. OUR Walmart has worked together with unions on a host of issues of concern to Walmart workers.

The anti-gun protests at Walmart stores this week are just another sign that Americans seem increasingly determined not to let corporate giants off the hook for their role in any one or more national crises.

Some 80 protesters at the Danbury, Connecticut Walmart delivered petitions signed by 300,000 people who want Walmart to stop selling rifles like the semi-automatic Bushmaster used to kill 20 children and six adults at the Newtown school on Dec. 14. One of the people outside the Danbury Walmart was Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was wounded in the April, 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. “The interest and the commitment of the American people to this right now is like a tsunami,” she told the Associated Press.

Walmart’s list of problems these days are not at all new. They follow close behind recent revelations that the company paid millions of dollars in bribes to officials in Mexico. The U.S. and Mexican governments launched investigations, Walmart stock dropped as a result and top company executives were hit with lawsuits by angry investors.

The company, the largest U.S. private employer with 1.5 million workers, continues to be hit with charges that it doesn’t pay fair wages or even cheats workers out of wages earned.

Town councils across the country continue to charge the company with enacting policies that crush small businesses, disrupt transportation and traffic patterns and spoil the local environment.

There are ongoing accusations that by purchasing too much inventory from oversees, the company undermines the U.S. economy.

Several times, over the last few years, the company has been hit with numerous sex discrimination lawsuits, including the largest-ever in 2004. A group of 1.6 million female workers accused Walmart of paying female workers less than male employees. The Supreme Court blocked the suit.

During those lawsuits shares fell 20 percent from early 2005 to an eight-year low of $42 two years later.

Whatever eventually happens on these or a host of other issues regarding the retail behemoth, one thing is already clear to most observers: The eyes of the nation will remain fixed on Walmart.

Photo: From Occupy the NRA Facebook page.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.