Over the last two weeks, 154 Walmart stores have been closing all across the United States, affecting an estimated 10,000 employees. One of these stores is right here in Winnsboro, and the closures will affect 160 jobs in our town.
But these hard-working Walmart employees who are now out of a job are not just numbers. They are from right here in our community. Many have families, and they face the same economic struggles we too often hear across retail: wages so low it’s impossible to save, scheduling that make it extremely difficult to control one’s life, and few, if any, benefits.
The real difference here is that Walmart is not some struggling company that had to make difficult decisions. Last year, they made $16 billion in profit. Their CEO, Doug McMillon, got paid $26 million in 2014 – over 1,500 times more than what a typical Walmart worker will make under the company’s “wage increases” recently announced. The Walton family is worth $144.7 billion.
Does this sound like a struggling company to you?
Sadly, this has less to do with Walmart stores, but more about its stock, the wealth of these elites, and the fact they believe their employees are disposable. Consider, for instance, that thousands of Walmart employees were given little notice of the closings and now face an uncertain future.
Of course, Walmart wants you to think nothing is wrong. The PR people say “the hope” is that all the employees who lost jobs will be transferred to other locations, while those who aren’t will receive 60 days of pay, plus severance if they are eligible.
The reality is that when it comes to Walmart, you can neither trust its words or deeds.
For example, when Walmart closed down five stores all across the country last year for “plumbing problems,” it promised it would transfer employees to nearby locations, and said they hoped to reinstate all the employees when the store reopened. However, dozens of employees at a store in Pico Rivera, CA, were never transferred and were not reinstated.
When Walmart made a commitment to U.S. manufacturing three years ago, it promised to buy $250 billion in products that support American jobs. But we soon found out that Walmart is still sending hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas, and many products that were proudly labeled “Made in the U.S.A.” on its website actually have foreign origins.
Walmart also recently announced even more wage increases, better scheduling, and more ways to advance in the company. In reality, the last time the retailer announced wage increases, many workers reported that their hours were cut, and that they’ve yet to see any improvements in scheduling or opportunities for growth.
Now, 10,000 of these American workers are out of a job.
This is the real Walmart.
It is a company that will say one thing and then do the opposite. It is a company that puts billions of profits and its public image over the well-being of workers, their families, and our community.
We believe they must and can be better than this. Until they change for the better, we should be giving our hard-earned dollars to the businesses here in Winnsboro that reflect our values, and value our citizens.
Jess Levin is the Communications Director for Making Change at Walmart, UFCW’s national campaign to change Walmart into a more responsible employer. Previously she was Communications Director at Media Matters and a host of Media Matters Radio on SiriusXM.