Why the Walmart Pay Raise Matters for Workers and Us

We celebrated a major victory with Walmart workers recently, as the company announced that it was raising the wages for its lowest-paid employees to $9 an hour this year and $10 an hour next year.

Walmart claims that it took this step in order to improve customer service and store performance which had declined due to years of cost-cutting at the store level.

While this may be true, it’s hard to believe that Walmart isn’t also responding to growing criticism and organizing by low-wage workers, including thousands of their own employees and local community campaigns to raise wages.

Walmart’s own “New Opportunities” fact sheet, which accompanied CEO Doug McMillon’s blog announcement, shows that the company is indeed listening to low-wage workers.

The fact sheet reads remarkably like the “$15 and full-time” chants of Our Walmart associates and fast-food workers. It reads: “We’re creating clear pathways for associates to understand how to earn more [and] advance from entry-level jobs to positions that pay $15 an hour or more.”

In the last section of the fact sheet, the company says: “We’re providing associates a more transparent, accessible schedule – working to give associates control, predictability and flexibility.”

The retail industry is spinning this as proof positive that the private sector can raise wages all on their own and that government should stay out of regulating wages.

But here’s the dilemma: We know that companies can pay better but employers have dragged their feet andrefused to pay better.

Walmart says raising wages for half a million workers would cost $1 billion. That amounts to only 0.002 percent of the previous year’s $476.3 billion in revenues. This is a drop in the bucket for the world’s largest retailers but could translate into their employees not having to depend on food stamps.

To put a finer point on why communities must advocate for higher wages, LAANE (Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy) worked to pass the first Living Wage Ordinance in Los Angeles. It raised city-contracted employee wages to $8.50 an hour in 1998. In contrast, it has taken corporate America 18 years to reach this point.

Is this how the market works?

This means that the market is almost two decades behind the needs of 40 percent of the U.S. population.

Any effort to ensure good wages for workers should be celebrated, whether it’s initiated by a company or community driven. But as we can see, expecting corporations to act means that we could be waiting for a very long time.

We, as a community, need to continue to lead by advocating for a raise in the minimum wage for all workers.

What about all the other retailers, fast-food companies and corporations that still haven’t stepped up to the plate?

Less than a week after Walmart’s announcement, the parent company of T.J. Maxx and Marshalls announced that they would be raising wages. This adds to an increasing number of retailers who are abandoning the “race to the bottom” – including Costco and Gap.

We now have two of the top apparel companies and the two of the top mass merchandising companies in the U.S. supporting higher wages. We hope that other retailers further down those lists will also do the same.

These are some trickle-down economics we can get behind.

This recent victory shows that corporations needs to be motivated to raise the wage and that the private sector won’t always do it on its own.

It was due to the hard work of Our Walmart workers, fast-food workers, the broader labor movement, community advocates and families.

But this isn’t enough. Employees still need adequate hours to make enough to support themselves. We know that accomplishing this is possible.

It was never about “bringing down” Walmart. It was about making change at Walmart, which will lead to progress across our economy.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

AIHA NGUYEN

Aiha Nguyen is the director of the Shop Well L.A. program at LAANE (Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy), a social justice organization that works to end poverty, improve polluted communities and address health care issues.

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