As we’ve discussed in the past, Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, relies heavily upon the American taxpayer to subsidize its “everyday low prices,” and, of course, it’s enormous corporate profits. Not only does the company routinely, as part of its standard human resources protocol, direct its poorly-paid employees to various state and federal assistance programs, but, in at least one Ohio store this holiday season, they’ve resorted to asking their employees who aren’t yet starving to donate canned goods to their fellow employees who are. “Please donate food items here so Associates in Need can enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner,” the sign at a Cleveland area Walmart says, perfectly illustrating the depths to which to company has sunk in pursuit of ever increasing profits… which, by the way, topped $17 billion last year.
Here, from Wall Street 24/7 is a general overview on the company.
U.S. workforce: 1.4 million
CEO compensation: $20.7 million
Revenue: $469 billion
Net income: $17.0 billion
No. of U.S. stores: 4,759
There are 1.4 million Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) associates working at the company’s 4,759 U.S. stores. Walmart recently announced it would launch Black Friday sales at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Critics of Walmart see this as adding insult to injury — forcing retail workers who already earn low wages to cut holidays short. Criticisms like these have been part of an onslaught of claims that Walmart underpays its workers. Walmart disagrees, saying that “for tens of thousands of people every year, a job at Walmart opens the door to a better life.” According to the company, a full-time hourly wage is $12.83. Some argue that the company’s number is inflated, however, reflecting the salaries of higher-paid employees. Hourly wages for sales associates are less than $9.00, according to Glassdoor.com. Walmart’s net income rose to $17 billion last year.
For what it’s worth, I know that the canned food drive in the Cleveland area Wal-Mart was probably initiated by a manager who truly cares about his, or her, employees, and doesn’t want to see them go hungry over the holidays. I know that this likely wasn’t sanctioned by the powers-that-be in Bentonville, and there probably isn’t a company-wide initiative afoot to get those with extra food to start feeding Wal-Mart associates. This was likely just one person who cared, but yet wasn’t empowered to do the right thing and pay people more, in spite of the fact that the company makes $17 billion per year in profit. So I don’t want to focus too much on this one particular sign, but, with that said, its existence really does speak volumes as to the conditions under which Wal-Mart employees work.
[IDEA ALERT: I don't know that I have time for another project at the moment, but I'm thinking that setting up a soup line outside a local Wal-Mart for their hungry employees could be really impactful. Not only would the Wal-Mart associates likely appreciate it, but it would be a great visual for the general public, driving home the fact that Wal-Mart doesn't pay a living wage.]
And this is likely to start happening elsewhere, as Republicans in Congress voted to reduce benefits, starting November 1, for the 47 million food stamp recipients in the United States, a great number of whom work for Wal-Mart… So, keep an eye out at your local store for opportunities to help care for the starving employees who keep the shelves stocked with your favorite cheap, Chinese-made screwdrivers and five-gallon jugs of pickles.
update: An earlier version of this story said that Wal-Mart was headquartered in Little Rock. It’s not. The company is based in Bentonville. Also, in an earlier version of this story, I noted that the sign in the Cleveland area Wal-Mart noted above was directed at the store’s customers. It wasn’t. I was directed at the store’s employees.
[note: As I find it impossible to write about Wal-Mart without mentioning their significantly more ethical competitor, did you know that Costco employees are paid an average of $20.89 an hour, not including overtime, and that close to eighty-eight percent of them have company-sponsored health insurance?]