Explaining in the above video statement that,“It has come to the attention of the Anonymous Collective that the business practices of the Wal-Mart Corporation are detrimental to democracy and economic prosperity worldwide,” the group declared that Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) should “expect us.” Anonymous, the informal hacker collective that often targets groups or countries it sees as enemies of Internet or personal freedom, argued that despite recording “massive profits,” the retailer has claimed to be unable to pay its workers a living wage. The $8.75 per hour Wal-Mart pays its starting sales associates — a figure corroborated by GlassDoor — amounts to an annual income of just $18,200 before taxes, the video claims, which is significantly lower than the $19,530 after-tax dollars the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says is necessary to support a small nuclear family.
With that description of Wal-Mart’s “detrimental” business practices as the backdrop, Anonymous announced that, “In the spirit of solidarity with our fellow activists and the working poor,” the hacker group was “prepared to use full might of the collective in defense of the working class until Wal-Mart is willing to give its workers fair pay for fair work.” Its offensive will continue until the corporation changes its labor practices so that all full-time workers are paid at least $11 per hour and receive basic health benefits.
Wal-Mart’s labor practices have taken a hold of the national consciousness; last year, the issue of implementing a living wage was first passed by the city council of Washington D.C. and then vetoed by Democratic Mayor Vincent C. Gray, and a wave of strikes by Wal-Mart workers from Black Friday 2012 through 2013 put the the condition of America’s low-wage, non-union workers in the limelight. It would seem that Wal-Mart — the world’s largest private employer — is concerned by all the attention its labor practices have received. Not only did the company allegedly fire approximately twenty employees for staging the November 2012 strikes and discipline scores of other participants, it appears Wal-Mart has begun to train store managers on how to discuss the question of union organization with other workers.
Anonymous also allegedly leaked “secret internal [Wal-Mart] documents” to Occupy Wall Street — the protest movement formed in the wake of the financial crisis. These documents, which consisted of two PowerPoint decks, were described by the movement’s website as evidence of Wal-Mart’s efforts to prevent workers from mobilizing.
The first document describes how the OUR Walmart movement is purely an effort by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union to raise more funds in the form of dues. In fact, the presentation begins with the question “what is OUR Walmart,” to which “UFCW” was given as the answer. The company’s states that its problem with that relationship is that the union’s only goal for pushing the company’s workers to organize is the tempting possibility of more dues. Of course, Wal-Mart’s key argument is by no means original in the ongoing labor debate. But, according to OUR Walmart, it is a fundamentally flawed argument. It is true that Wal-Mart’s 1.4 million workers are not unionized, and that the union-backed activist group OUR Walmart has played a role in organizing strikes and drawing awareness to Wal-Mart’s low wages. However, the organization claims that is not seeking union recognition for the company’s workers, which is Wal-Mart’s concern. The internal documents claim that the union has done nothing but hurt Wal-Mart workers.
“Does the UFCW spend money that harms our Company and our Associates?” Wal-Mart asks in the documents, and the answer “yes” was given in all capital letters. The example cited in the document was far from detailed, but it referred to several instances in which grocery-store chains — including Wal-Mart rivals Safeway (NYSE:SWY) and Supervalu (NYSE:SVU), whose workers are members of the UFCW — hired Saint Consulting Group to secretly run anti-development campaigns, meaning the firm would organize local communities to oppose the construction of new Wal-Mart stores. As the Wall Street Journal reported back in 2010, former Saint workers acknowledged that the union occasionally pays a portion of the firm’s fees. “The work we’ve funded Saint to do to preserve our market share and our jobs is within our First Amendment rights,” Jill Cashen, spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, told the publication.
The logic behind Wal-Mart’s argument is that because the UFCW funds such activity, it is preventing Wal-Mart from expanding. Furthermore, $5-per-month dues paid to OUR Walmart, which the company says are channeled to the union, which then finances anti-Wal-Mart campaigns. The second document, titled “Walmart Labor Relations Training: Salaried Manager Module,” explained that “we simply don’t feel third party representation is right for Walmart.”
It specified that salaried managers and other supervisors must support the company’s position on how to “treat people” and must report union activity to the Labor Relations Hotline immediately. Supervisors were also given tips on how to deal with any union activity, which came in the form of an acronym spelling “tips” and one spelling “foe.” T stood for Threaten, I for Interrogate, P for Promise, and S for Spy. This essentially means that it is unlawful for workers to make threats or ask questions about “protected/union activity’; it is unlawful for workers to make promises to influence “protected/union activity”; and, it is unlawful to spy on protected union activity. However workers can share Facts about unions, Opinions about unions, or Experiences with unions.
Both Wal-Mart and the fast-food industry have become battlegrounds in the confrontation between big business and labor. Last year’s protests protests highlighted the degree to which the economic recovery is leaving behind many Americans. Rising home prices have given homeowners more equity, and combined with the modest gains made by the labor market, put many Americans in a better financial position, stagnant wages, and higher payroll taxes have affected spending for lower-income earners — like Wal-Mart employees. “You’re seeing a bit of a split economy where that lower income consumer has been under a lot of pressure but the higher end is doing OK,” Telsey Advisory Group senior research director Joe Feldman told CNBC back in September. Furthermore, the majority of employment gains the sputtering economy has made have been concentrated in part-time or contract employment in lower-wage sectors like the retail and food service.
However, there is an economic argument against raising wages for low-income earners workers: higher wages mean fewer jobs. “The most basic principle in economics is the law of demand: when something becomes more expensive, people buy less of it,” wrote economist Richard Vedder for the Daily Beast. “This is true for America’s employers.” In fact, he contends that Wal-Mart has been vital to the U.S. economy by putting “a seven-digit number of Americans” to work over the decades, making goods available at lower costs to millions of relatively low-income consumers, and increasing the number of consumer choices relative to the pre-Walmart age. Appeasing workers demands would hamper the company’s ability to fill that economic role of mass employer and discount retailer, Vedder wrote.
Plus, for retailers like Wal-Mart, profit margins are extremely small. Last year, even though the company earned about $17 billion on sales of $469 billion, profits were about 3.6 cents on each dollar of goods sold. “Labor costs are much larger than profits, so a large increase in those costs, such as by establishing a minimum Walmart wage of $12 an hour and insisting the company hire workers for enough hours to ensure medical benefits under Obamacare, would raise labor costs at least $10 billion a year and probably much more, reducing profits by well over half if not accompanied by price increases or other actions to try to reduce the damage to profitability,” Vedder argued. But, of course, even though the issues of union representation and the living wage are closely intertwined, Vedder’s argument is not explicitly an argument against union representation.
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