By RICHARD TRUMKA
(June 3, 2014) — Hundreds of Walmart Moms are going on strike this week in dozens of cities across the country to protest Walmart’s terrible treatment of working women. Their courage is admirable. It’s not easy to take on Walmart, especially because the company has a history of illegally retaliating against its workers.
But the striking moms won’t be alone. They will be joined at many of the protests by working families, including religious and community groups and the broader labor movement. And because not everyone can join a picket line, many more working people will be speaking out in solidarity at community centers, at union halls and online.
TAKE A STAND! — In Washington state, as part of a national day of action to call attention to Walmart’s low wages and anti-family work policies, join the “Walmart Moms” protesting this Wednesday, June 4 at the Mt. Vernon Walmart, 2301 Freeway Dr., from 7 to 8 a.m., and the Lynnwood Walmart, 1400 164th SW, from 11 a.m. to noon. Get details.
Many of us are lending our voices to this important cause because its significance cannot be overstated. When a company denies its workers fair wages and human dignity, it’s an outrage. But when that company is the largest employer in the country, it’s an economic disaster.
Retailers like Walmart are the root cause of income inequality. Walmart keeps the wages of its employees low while it rewards its owners — the Waltons, a family whose wealth is equal to the combined wealth of 42% of Americans. Instead of using its $17 billion in annual profit to fairly reward the workers who make its business run, Walmart has chosen to overcompensate wealthy heirs and company executives.
These are all reasons why the moms going on strike this week are advocating for change at Walmart. They know, even if the Waltons don’t, that this is not how one of the largest companies in the world is supposed to act. A company shouldn’t illegally retaliate against those who want to improve their working conditions! And a company should not allow about two-thirds of its employees to make less than $25,000 a year and schedule irregular hours so most of its workers cannot earn enough to support their families.
While Walmart drags its heels on wages, companies like Costco and the Gap are beginning to recognize the value of paying employees fair wages. They know that paying workers more will help the economy and boost sales because workers will be able to afford the products they sell. And they won’t have to rely on public assistance and food drives around the holidays anymore.
So what should we expect to see this week? On Monday, a group of workers will picket Walmart Chairman Rob Walton’s house in Phoenix. On Wednesday, moms will be walking off the job at protests in more than 20 cities across the country. On Thursday and Friday, groups of Walmart workers will be going to Arkansas to both the company’s headquarters in Bentonville and to Fayetteville, where the company will hold its annual shareholders meeting.
At that meeting, the workers will urge shareholders to vote against re-electing Rob Walton because of the company’s systemic violations of labor and environmental standards.
This vocal advocacy already has made a difference for Walmart employees. Recently, Walmart upgraded its pregnancy policy after mothers, alongside OUR Walmart members, submitted a resolution to the company about its discriminatory pregnancy policy. And, after OUR Walmart called on the retailer to improve access to hours, Walmart introduced a new system that allows workers to sign up online for available shifts in its stores.
These are big victories but there’s a long way to go. What matters most is that the eyes of the nation are trained on Walmart this week to make sure these brave moms are able to return to work and provide for their families when all is said and done. They are risking a lot by speaking their minds. Let’s stand with them so Walmart knows we have their backs.
Richard Trumka is President of the AFL-CIO. Learn more at aflcio.org.