Shareholders of the nation’s largest private employer, Walmart, had some guests at their annual meeting in Bentonville, Ark.: striking Walmart associates.
Like most Americans, these retail employees simply want to receive fair compensation for an honest day’s work. Unfortunately, fairness is not what these associates are getting.
On Black Friday last year a number of Walmart associates walked off the job for a few hours. This was done to call attention to their simple asks for fair employment conditions such as Walmart paying a reasonable living wage that allows associates to meet basic living needs, providing affordable health care, putting commitments to employee’s in writing and guaranteeing freedom of speech and association for all employees. I believe there is nothing in that list of asks that strikes fair-minded people as unreasonable.
In January, Walmart made the decision to begin denying health insurance and other benefits to new hires who work fewer than 30 hours of a week. One third of Walmart employees are restricted to less than 28 hours a week and not able to receive benefits.
At a previous shareholder meeting, associates introduced a resolution aimed at limiting executive compensation. Given that CBS recently reported that Walmart CEO Mike Duke made $20.7 million last year, this too is not an outrageous request.
Workers in warehouses that supply Walmart also joined in walkouts in an effort to call attention to issues such as having to work in extreme temperatures and without access to clean drinking water. Again, these are pretty mundane requests.
Unfortunately, associates now allege that managers across the nation said that the walkouts were illegal. Further, they say the Walmart managers have said that future similar actions could result in termination.
Through Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), associates have been standing together and speaking up for change.
OUR Walmart is effective. Earlier this year Walmart announced changes in its scheduling policy as sought by the associate’s organization.
Inspired by the freedom rides that were so effective during the civil rights movement, employees embarked on a “Ride for Respect” to take their message to the shareholder’s meeting in Bentonville.
We have a long and rich tradition of seeking fairness in our nation. The ideal permeates all of our founding documents.
Similarly, the religions present on the American landscape urge fairness. As a member of the American Muslim faith community, I am familiar with a passage in the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, reminding humanity to “Give just measure and weight, nor withhold from the people the things that are their due.” (Quran 11:85) Prophet Muhammad once said that on the Day of Judgment one group of people he will oppose are those who hire “a worker, but does not pay him his right wages owed to him after fulfilling his work.”
It is time for Walmart do be fair to its workers and the communities in which they live. The company can best show this fairness by adopting the Declaration for Respect created by OUR Walmart.
Walmart workers delivered a clear message to Walmart executives at today's shareholder meeting. Let's echo that message across the country on this national day of action. Deliver a letter to the manager of your local Walmart store: http://bit.ly/WMTaction613
Corey Saylor is a board member at Interfaith Worker Justice (www.iwj.org) and serves as Director of the Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
*photo courtesy of Organization United for Respect