06-15-2011 by Linda S. Carbonell
Last year, there was a documentary about attempt by WalMart employees to unionize within the existing union structures like the SEICU. The attempt has been an utter failure. Now, WalMart’s employees are looking at an alternative to unionization.
A non-union group is being created to speak for WalMart employees in dealing with management. The non-union, with is called Organization United for Respect at WalMart, or OURWalMart, would act as a voice for the employees, but would have no power to collectively bargain on their behalf. WalMart has 1.4 million employees in the United States and created the model for retail chain employment.
Within the stores, only the managers are full-time employees. The part-timers are restricted to less than the number of hours per week that triggers the state requirement for providing benefits. This threshold varies between states and usually ranges from 30 to 36 hours per week. The average hours for a part-time retail employee are typically below 28 per week.
A few years ago, the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran a story that exposed the fact that half of the children of WalMart employees in Georgia were receiving medical insurance under the Federal S-CHIP program. The next year, Georgia’s S-CHIP program went bankrupt. Though the AJC didn’t look at other major retailers, relying on state medicaid programs for children’s health is common among retail employees. In Vermont, where there is a state health insurance program for the working poor, retail part-timers make up a large part of the enrollment.
WalMart is an international company. They have had to deal with labor laws in Germany that dictated worker conditions more than in America. They have had to pay higher wages and greater taxes in most of their foreign locations. They have benefitted in other countries from the existence of nationalized health systems and pension systems that eliminate the bottom-line decision to deny to full-time work to American employees. But here in America, the Walton family which holds four of the top ten and three other positions in the Forbes list of the top 400 billionaires in America continues to resist any efforts to improve their employees’ situations. They also support many of the organizations that exist to prevent nationalized health care and efforts to restore a middle class to America.
The WalMart “model” of employment leads to retailers deciding to do such wonderful things as this: two employees have finally been with the retailer long enough to earn fifty cents an hour over minimum. They come in one day and find their hours have been cut from 20 a week to 10 and a new employee hired for those 20 hours. That saves the company $10 a week. It’s a nickel and dime way for a company to push its profit margin into the billion dollar range.
In the last 40 years, we have seen unions demonized until less than 10% of American workers belong to unions. It began with textile companies moving their operations from the unionized Northeast to the Deep South and saying that the unions had cut their own throats with wage and benefit demands. Then, with no or few unions in place in their Southern operations, they moved their factories to Central America. But the stigma they had affixed to unions remained. What we saw in Wisconsin and the other states that are passing anti-union laws is a means of convincing Americans that we should accept the death of the middle class. We have seen so many defenders of these anti-union laws saying that the public sector workers have it too good, they shouldn’t have more than other workers. The anti-union effort has destroyed the belief that American workers deserve decent pay for their time and decent benefits for their families.
Maybe the worst thing they have done in their drive to destroy the middle class is make us afraid to use the term “American workers” – the rightwing propaganda machine has invested a lot of time and energy getting their followers to equate the word “worker” with communism. Since the resemblance between American employees and the worker class in ant colonies is becoming more apparent daily, what else are we supposed to call ourselves – vacationers?