Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

November 30, 2013

Wal-Mart and the high cost of low wages

(Continued)

Though recent strikes in Dallas, Chicago, Miami and Southern California made headlines, Wal-Mart seems used to the outrage surrounding its policies. Confronted about recent protests outside of one of their Los Angeles locations, a spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times that “Wal-Mart has seen such protests ‘over and over’ again” — a breathtakingly arrogant response from a company that also boasts the largest number of employees on government assistance.

Wal-Mart has a history of retaliation against workers who stand up and demand better conditions. But intimidation tactics haven’t stopped brave workers like Colby Harris from speaking out. A former Wal-Mart employee and OUR Walmart organizer, Harris is just one of hundreds of Wal-Mart associates who reported retaliatory harassment from the company. Earlier this year he told the Nation, “They said that anybody who associates themselves with OUR Walmart [Organization United for Respect at Walmart], and the leaders, and the organization as a whole, could face disciplinary actions.”

He has since been fired from Wal-Mart.

Beyond intimidation tactics, Wal-Mart is infamous for wages so low that employees are eligible for taxpayer-funded programs. It’s a lucrative scheme in which employees are perpetually on the brink of financial ruin. All the while, America foots the bill. According to a recent report, one 300-person Wal-Mart store could come at a cost of $900,000 to $1.7 million per year to federal taxpayers through Medicaid, housing assistance, low-income tax credits and deductions, free and reduced lunches for children of employees and low-income energy assistance. Considering the size of Wal-Mart’s U.S. workforce, taxpayers are paying more than $1.5 billion to subsidize its profits.

Clearly, every day is Black Friday for Wal-Mart. The company makes a killing all year, keeping its workers financially insecure and beholden to our social-safety net. Fifty years after Americans came to Washington to march for jobs, thousands of brave workers are taking action, launching Black Friday strikes across the country, demanding dignity, justice and respect. Wal-Mart must be held accountable for its exploitation of American workers and for the dangerous game it plays with our democracy. A social-safety net is important, but it should be there to help people, not subsidize a corporation that lines its pockets by keeping workers in poverty.

By supporting Wal-Mart workers in the fight for good jobs and a decent working environment, we can help raise the standard for the entire retail industry, and show Wal-Mart executives that there’s a price to pay for exploiting its workforce.

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