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Walmart workers and their allies organize a movement that could ripple through the retail industry

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Workers at Walmart's Richmond store protest what they called their mistreatment by the company.
PHOTO BY KASI FARRAR

"The very first day," she said, "the managers started off yelling and screaming. 'You guys are lazy, the worst crew I ever worked with.' Instead of saying 'get the tool,' it was yelling "go get the goddamn tool!'

Lee was especially angry about comments she saw as racist. One night a young African American worker tied a rope around his waist to move a heavy counter. "The supervisor, an older, Caucasian man, said, 'If it was up to me I would tie it around your neck.'"

The work demands seemed impossible to meet. "You have 20 people doing an amount of work it would take 50 people to finish," said Lee, "and they kept saying 'hurry up, hurry up, you guys are moving too slow.'"

A report issued last month by Making Change at Walmart criticized what it called Walmart's "low-road business model." The report charged that a recent push for increased productivity has meant short staffing and more pressure of the kind Lee described.

Walmart spokesperson Dan Fogleman denied that the productivity program had led to more pressure on workers, saying rather that technology like self-checkout had freed more associates to help customers. "We staff the stores to meet the needs of our customers," he said.

But Amanda Grenier, who worked at Walmart for seven years and is now on staff at Making Change at Walmart, charged that the company's scheduling shows a "total disregard for associates' wellbeing." When she was an hourly worker supervising others who worked at cash registers, she said, "Some of the women working there had to find daycare, so they asked for morning shifts. There were morning shifts open, but the managers wouldn't work with them. They said the associates had to have 'open availability.' [Walmart says] they support people going to school, but they cut your hours to retaliate if you 'close' hours [to go to classes]."

Fogelman disputed this picture, saying that Walmart's scheduling system is "designed to build associates' schedules around the times they are available." He added that Walmart's "pay structure" is "very competitive" — hourly associates who work full time, at least 34 hours a week, earn an average of $12.54 an hour, and have many opportunities for advancement.

Raymond Bravo, who has been working at the Richmond Walmart store for about 17 months, said he makes $9.85 an hour, which includes an extra $1 for working the late-night shift. "What I'm getting paid is crazy," he commented, adding that he was glad he didn't have to support children on his pay.

But Bravo was more indignant about what he saw as retaliation for wearing an OURWalmart T-shirt to work. After he did that, he said, "My manager was really on my case, assigning me more work than I could do in a night." After Bravo complained, he said, "I got my hours cut to 24 a week."

 

THE RIGHT TO PROTEST

If open protest brings retaliation, why not keep the organizing underground? "The number one mission for OURWalmart," said member Ware, "is to give knowledge to employees." Specifically, "to let other workers know, if there's something wrong on your job, it's not just you, there's a whole group of individuals fighting for you."

The campaign also lets workers know they have a right to organize. On OURWalmart's Facebook page, a Walmart worker recently posted his view that members were crazy to take such risks, adding, "You have no rights — you're not in a union."

An immediate response from a worker-activist explained that, on the contrary, the National Labor Relations Act gives all workers, whether or not they are union members, the right to take "concerted action" to improve their jobs, and bars employers from retaliation or intimidation. OURWalmart has filed dozens of "unfair labor practice" charges against Walmart, including charges on behalf of two fired Bay Area workers.

Comments

Fogelman disputed this picture, saying that Walmart's scheduling system is "designed to build associates' schedules around the times they are available." He added that Walmart's "pay structure" is "very competitive" — hourly associates who work full time, at least 34 hours a week, earn an average of $12.54 an hour, and have many opportunities for advancement.
I don't know where they get paid like this but my husband started out at minimum wage, $7.25 an hour and after one year moved up to $7.65 an hour. That was for 40 hours a week. He did not get any experience points for working at another Walmart doing the same thing four years before he started working at this new Walmart. Also, he never had the same days off and never had the same shifts, He went from 8:30-5:30, to 1-10, 11-8, etc. All in one week.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 7:40 am

No experience points, but did your husband get any hit points, my understanding is that you get 3d12?

Posted by marcos on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 8:02 am

Fogelman disputed this picture, saying that Walmart's scheduling system is "designed to build associates' schedules around the times they are available."

The problem with this statement is that the stores demand full availability for cashiers. If you can not give them full availability then they don't want to hire you.

He added that Walmart's "pay structure" is "very competitive" — hourly associates who work full time, at least 34 hours a week, earn an average of $12.54 an hour, and have many opportunities for advancement.

That average $$$ per hour is calculated on all hourly associates (cart pushers to department mgrs).... most of which (except for hourly mgrs) get hired in at minimum wage, then get say a $0.40 increase per year. It takes years to reach $12.54. It can be reached faster with promotions but even going up 2 pay grades may only bring you to $10 & some change. The associates who have been there 10, 15, 20 yrs have worked their way up to a higher $$$ by virtue of time with the company also. This Average pay per hr is not an accurate representation of what the average associate makes but it makes the company look good.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 8:27 am

Yeah, and my UFCW local got me a 15 cent/ hour raise in our last contract. I got a $1.00/ hour raise on my own. So go ahead and believe as you will. The Unions of today do nothing more than protect the WORST employees. Often times they argue with the management that they should keep those that are drunks on the job in favor of promoting hard working people that are reliable and dependable.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 17, 2012 @ 6:28 pm

In any case let me recommend that breezy read from the college-educated writer who voluntarily lived the life of poor women under the "welfare reform" agenda of Gingrich/Clinton.

One chapter covers her time working for Walmart. "Oooooooh, Yeah!"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exl1YcYKaJg&feature=related

Posted by lillipublicans on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 8:55 am

I spent much of my time hiring on new associates. I can say that out of 100 people, the highest paid person was $8/hr. There is NO way the average pay is $12 something! As a former employee, I was let go because I was being harassed in the workplace And instead of walmart taking care of those select associates, they choose to find a way to dismiss me. I still haven't found a way to dispute this wrongful termination/ no respect for the individual issue. I'm hoping someone can help.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 11:21 am

I assume that's the minimum wage in Richmond, and these are unskilled jobs. I'm not sure what else anyone expects.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 11:35 am

In case you haven't heard, your co-thinkers have been decidedly defeated when it comes to representing our American values. The great robber Barron's would be proud of you. Let's hope that no lives are lost in this battle against corporate greed. For a real living wage and healthcare for all.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 17, 2012 @ 7:07 pm
Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 9:48 am

I see posts about how some associates get $12.54 an hour, but like most i started at min wage and even 4 yrs later.. still make less than $9/hr I do depend on foodstamps to feed my family, but i still make more than i would on welfare so i stay so my kids can have clothes, toys, ect.. as for avalability trying to get a drs appt for my kids is a nightmare.. on this black friday i was scheduled at 5a even though my avalability isnt til 7a b/c the daycare doesnt open til 630.. they told me to deal with it.. but then i also know that in our area.. there are so many ppl out of jobs from mine lay offs ect.. if we did protest and walk off the job we wouldnt be likely to walk back on to our jobs.. and its too close to christmas to ask us to give up everything we could get for our kids for christmas .. yes we all want better working conditions.. yes we want respect... yes we want our hours to be fair.. even our wages to be enough to not have to depend on foodstamps and such.. but we shouldnt have to give up everything to get it..

Posted by kit on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 7:36 am

past week to see the outcome if you look a gift horse in the mouth - 18,000 workers laid off because of unrealistic demands and intransigence from the workers and their unions.

You've got a job and you've got a family to support. Unless you want to be on welfare then you need to meet the demands of the job - the job doesn't have to fit in with your lifestyle decisions.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 9:35 am

My experience was it it was in large part a "company union" except for defending its longest serving workers and retirees; they have adopted two- and three- and maybe four-tier contracts wherein the newest members are coerced into fighting to expand and defend the benefits of those who sold them out before they even started working.

It was unsurprising to read elsewhere that the Teamsters' rep. asked that the BCTGM conduct a secret ballot to decide whether or not to strike, as I had personal experience with contract votes being conducted by a show of hands; with reportage back to management by the steward on who voted for what.

Unionism is a great tool to counterbalance the systemic workplace disadvantage that workers suffer under, but like anything good, those whose interests are fundamentally inimnical to the union movement's aim are prone to try and wrest control of it for their own ends.

Two-tier systems have as much validity in union contracts as management's exploitation of racism and sexism to divide workers.

Posted by *withheld* on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 10:04 am

The old contracts are unsustainable to the employers who, as we have just seen with Hostess, will simply close down rather than run uneconomically.

The alternatives are fairly simple. Either:

1) Go out of business like Hostess, or
2) Screw over all the workers by moving everyone to the new contract, or
3) Grandfather in existing workers and adopt a new contract for new hires.

You may not like (3) and it does invoke envy. But it's still better than the other two options.

Even in the public sector, which cannot really go out of business, we've seen two-tier contracts over pensions and healthcare. And of course while the public sector cannot go out of business, they can contract, outsource or privatize.

Be careful out there.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 10:10 am

The Hostess union made concessions twice. The reason the company failed is that the owners and management took all the money out of the company while the workers made concessions. They raided the pension fund and raised their salaries. The CEO raised his salary by 300% while the company was contemplated a third bankruptcy. Please look into the facts.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 5:47 am

Even the Teamsters made the necessary concession but the bakers would rather lose their jobs than take a pay cut. So they deserve everything they get, which of course will now be nothing.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 8:26 am

"yup," "LOL," and "Huh?" are completely mendacious and duplicitous if not wantonly abrasive and glib which the above represents perfectly.

Anonymous, it is not possible for you to express an intelligent -- i.e. valid -- opinion based on what your thought-masters on KSFO have impregnated your thought-sponge with.

Posted by lillipublicans on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 9:25 am

Your mom must be so proud of you, spending 24/7 on an anonymous chatroom insulting anyone who disagrees with you.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 9:48 am

but rather serves to preserve the integrity of the union. (The need for emphasis indicated here, though no doubt pointless: Union. U-N-I-O-N.)

Posted by *withheld* on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 10:35 am

workers to have a bad contract rather than only 50%.

Are you suggesting that petty envy and jealousy is a worse thing than at least some workers preserving a decent deal?

And may I guess that you are probably young?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 10:48 am

are arguing (i.e. against unionism and against workers) is a useful indicator as to the validity of your points.

Posted by *withheld* on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 11:29 am

I was arguing against selling everyone down the river when you can save at least some of them.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

Arguing about give backs misses the point. The owners of businesses are getting way richer while the average worker is getting screwed. Something like 90% of all wealth created since 2007 has gone to the 1%.

There's plenty of money, but it is almost all just going to the richest people. Owners have successfully replaced most well paying working class jobs overseas or replaced them with automation. They have defeated private sector unionism and have set their eyes on the public sector and the pitiful safety net (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) that we have in the United States.

Wall Street suckered pensioners into investing with them and then lost (stole) the money. Now they want to get their hands on Social Security. They already control the health care system through for-profit insurance and have consolidated that control through Obamacare.

Watch as the private equity firms that own the Hostess brands make out like bandits after shutting down the company, while getting to blame the underpaid union workers for the company's demise.

How much more will we take before rising up against this exploitative immoral socio-economic system?

Posted by Eddie on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 11:02 am

The simple fact is that we are paid too much for the value of what we produce. If those in other nations can be more productive and efficient, or even if the dollar is too high, then US jobs will always either be outsourced, privatized or performed by immigrants or at lower rates of pay.

Nowhere in your "analysis" do you ask if US workers are worth what they get paid. All you do is show envy or talk about wht you think you're entitled to. That's exactly the attitude that loses American jobs.

You want a great-paying US? Plenty of americans still have them and there must be over 100,000 San Franciscans earning more than 100K pa. What's the secret? Education, hard work and ambition. Talented, industrious workers can do well anywhere. Lazy slobs will do well nowhere.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 11:19 am

I mean, U.S. corporate honchos are the highest paid in the world. They make those billions on the backs of American workers. Hostess execs just paid themselves huge bonuses which is why the union workers objected to the terms of the contract.

When you use the phrase "we workers" it seems as though you do so falsely; either that or you are a Stockholm Syndrome sufferer. If you were a worker, you'd be a scab.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 11:41 am

I cannot control that and, anyway, it's none of my beeswax.

I care about how much I can make and what it takes to maximize that. Someone else being richer than me doesn't make me poorer.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

but arguing about give-backs and the health of unionism is not "missing the point;" when workers were largely united across all fields and generations, the capitalists were scared of us. When workers spoke with one voice with regard to trade and capital investment and such, our opinions had importance.

As the capitalists learned how to divide workers from each other, they were able to implement systemic changes resulting in the dire situation workers find themselves in now.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 11:34 am

changes in the economy. Knowledge workers and professionals don't see any need for unions, for exist mostly to try and immunize unskilled workers against their own irrelevance.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

I agree about the importance of unionism. The increase in income inequality and the generally shitty state of the US economy is directly related to the dire state of the labor movement in the US and the precipitous decline in union density. So of course, workers must fight against give backs.

My point is that there is no economic reason for workers to have to give back. The pie is not shrinking. Unfortunately, we are brainwashed to believe that it is, and the ruling class is pushing "shared sacrifice", which translates into reduced wages and benefits, two-tiered wage structures, and under/unemployment for workers and lots more wealth for the owners and their tools, like the commentor above who says that US workers aren't worth what they get paid, but he is because he's smarter and better than average; what a dick!! He probably never did real manual work in his life--such "unskilled" jobs actually require a lot of skill and physical exertion that most of the 100K plus jobs he mentions don't require.

Of course, if workers in the developing world could even the playing field through collective action and raise wages there, that would help workers everywhere. Unfortunately, such activism is met with death squads and other tactics (often funded with US tax dollars.)

Posted by Eddie on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 4:04 pm

"pie" should be split. That's envy talk. The real issue is about how big a pie to bake in the first place.

Even poor americans are better off than nearly all Africans because, even tho they have a tiny part of the pie, it is a vastly bigger pie.

Pitting classes against each other is a flawed ideology because it ignores the biggest factor in our prosperity - our ability to create wealth rather than argue about who should receive it.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 4:35 pm

Guest, your mistake is failing to understand that those that create the wealth (labor) receive only a miniscule part of it. The most fundamental issue in economics and politics is how that wealth is allocated.

"Our prosperity" is a misnomer because half of Americans are poor or nearly poor. Liberals (especially affluent ones) like to discount class struggle because they don't want to recognize their part in an exploitative economic system. I'm not saying that all affluent people directly exploit others, buy most benefit from a wage/salary discrepancy that underpays working class jobs and overpays those that own the economy or are their hired tools.

I'm not envious of the rich, but I know that their wealth doesn't come from them working harder or being smarter. It comes from accident of birth, or choosing a profession that the owners of the world allow to be well paid (doctors, lawyers, finance). Those opportunites are limited and not equally available.

Posted by Eddie on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

corporation is equal to what the workers earned minus what they received.

If only life were that simple.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 6:38 pm

And he's *so* right.

Everybody knows the 1%'ers are perfectly satisfied to have the pie divvied up any which old way because were so much better off than most Africans.... hmm... didn't the saying used to be about how we were better off than the Europeans?...

Well not to worry! Just keep on with the class-blind tax cuts for the people who make lots of money; because some of them are poor working folks after all.

Posted by lillipublicans on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 5:18 pm

negative, self-denying and pointless. Why not examine how you can contribute more to society rather than obsess about the fact that the contribution of some others is more highly valued than your own?

When was the last time that jealousy worked out well for you?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 6:40 pm

You are mistaking contempt for jealousy. I am satisfied with my contribution to society and with my efforts to help change it.

Posted by Eddie on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 8:26 pm

But your compensation will always be equivalent to what you are worth. Worrying and whining that someone somewhere might be getting more than you is an irrelevance, politically. Tend your own garden.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 8:28 am

It puzzles me as to why people shop at Walmart.

an anti wallmart song

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVl6fB8Zp2I

Posted by matlock on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

Given the choice of paying more elsewhere and selling American jobs down the river, Americans choose the latter every time. They only care until it hits their own pocketbook.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 1:43 pm

i only buy USA, and have been doing it for two decades when possible.

"the left" who claim to do same have been bullshittig.

Posted by matlock on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 9:42 pm

Well, matlock, I see you made another similar comment below but there you included right-wingers among the careless Americans -- that's only proper, you being a "moderate" -- but I'll tell you that you have it completely wrong.

When American corporate execs, who by definition *are* *not* "leftists," were busy expanding the outsourcing components and moving whole factories to the East, it wasn't the right-wing who were critical of that; it was American oganized labor.

They didn't have the false comfort of ever-increasing stock value to buoy their spirits.

It hasn't been the leftists who have been matlocky.

Posted by lillipublicans on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 11:38 pm

quite simply, it is much better value and better engineered than anything the US designs. Anyway, many foreign cars are built in the US so the distinction is becoming moot anyway.

A continuing fall in the US dollar will solve this problem over time.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 6:53 am

So called Americans left and right don't care.

Posted by matlock on Nov. 18, 2012 @ 9:56 pm

I have a hard time understanding how you can defend the minimum wage and the treatment of employees by these hugely rich corporations. Paying the workers more and the CEO's less wouldn't really hurt the top. CEO's make approximately 400X what the average worker makes. Are they really that important to the company? Why should we have to subsidize Walmart by paying for food stamps for their employees because the owners want to make even more profit? Is this not a form of corporate welfare. Saying the job is only worth so much money, when it is not a living wage is crazy. Saying that the folks working there need to get an education and a better job doesn't solve the overall problem. If these employees can get to class and get an education someone needs to do the job. There aren't that many high level jobs out there. I am not speaking of small businesses with small (less than 25) employees. They probably would go out of business if they had to pay more wages, but huge corporations are making huge profits and we as taxpayers are subsidizing their profits by having to subsidize their employees. The right is always talking about those on welfare getting a job. If a welfare recipient gets a job, they take away all their benefits up to their gross salary. The employee doesn't get to keep their gross pay. They may not make enough to have income taxes taken out, but everyone pays social security and medicare. Then they have to reapply for food stamps. What is there incentive?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 6:18 am

If a new employer gives you more income than you were getting before, why does it matter that their CEO makes 100 million a year?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 9:50 am

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