Thankful for a living wage and real opportunity

Jess Livinghouse |

Tomorrow when I visit my grandfather for Thanksgiving dinner, I will be thankful for the opportunity he had to earn a living wage, yet all too aware that this opportunity does not exist for many Americans in 2013.

My grandfather never graduated college. He attempted twice but life got in the way each time. After finishing his freshman year at Indiana University my grandfather was drafted to serve in the Korean War. After returning to the U.S., he was accepted into the school's optometry program, and he continued working towards his degree. When he became ill with stomach ulcers he was unable to complete his courses and was forced to put college on hold once again.

At the time, he and my grandmother were expecting the birth of my aunt, and he decided it was best that he get a job to support his growing family. He was able to get a union job at the local telephone company.

His job wasn’t the most exciting or glamorous job, but it was an honest and dignified source of livelihood. For 35 years, he worked as a union member of the Communications Workers of America, had benefits, a pension and he was able to support his wife and two children. If he was asked to work a holiday he received triple pay.

In contrast, Walmart claims to be a company that provides its workers with “great job opportunities” (have you seen the commercial?). In October, Walmart executives attempting to tout how the company pays workers, actually admitted more than 500,000 of store employees make less than $25,000 annually. That’s barely enough to keep a family of four above the poverty line.

Those numbers got me thinking: How many Walmart employees have experienced setbacks similar to the ones my grandfather faced before landing his job at the phone company? How many workers face unexpected commitments, health issues or inadequate childcare? Walmart workers deserve a living wage, schedules they can plan their lives around, access to affordable healthcare and above all dignity and respect at their workplace.

On Black Friday, Nov. 29, let us show our gratitude for the workers who sell groceries, stock shelves and operate cash registers at retail shops across the country, but especially at Walmart, the industry leader. You can join people of faith standing with these workers on Black Friday calling for dignity and respect at work, something we all deserve.