Most Black Fridays, I avoid retail stores like the plague. I prefer to enjoy the day with family and friends. This year, I’m venturing out – not in search of that “good deal,” but in support of justice for Walmart workers.
We Americans love our deals. I do my share of bargain shopping and coupon clipping. But we also want workers to be paid fairly and treated decently. Companies can make large profits, but we expect them to share their prosperity with workers.
Walmart is the world’s largest retailer. As the nation’s largest private employer with 1.4 million workers, Walmart is the largest employer of women, African Americans and Latinos. Because of its size, Walmart sets the standard for retail work in the nation. Walmart’s standard is bargain basement. In our faith communities, we believe that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” We expect more from Walmart.
Walmart pays low wages ($8.81 starting rate). They also schedule workers who want and need full time work and benefits part time hours. Thousands of workers can’t work the hours they need to support their families, and they aren’t eligible for company-provided (although expensive) health care benefits. Walmart claims to serve low-income people by setting cheap prices, but it often pushes workers to poverty with its erratic, insufficient scheduling and low wages.
Walmart workers have formed an organization call OUR Walmart pushing the company to be better. The OUR Walmart leaders I’ve met enjoy working in retail and want Walmart to prosper, but also they want to share in the prosperity. They want better wages, full-time hours and family affordable benefits. They want to be treated with respect and dignity. They want to know that those who work in Walmart’s warehouses, and produce products for Walmart are also treated fairly.
This Black Friday, people of faith around the country are standing with Walmart workers. Some of us will be offering prayers outside the stores. Some of us will be talking with managers inside the stores. Others will be organizing flash mobs inside and outside the stores.
We won’t stop anyone from shopping, but we do want to get Walmart’s attention. And based on Walmart’s filing charges at the National Labor Relations Board attempting to stop the actions, it appears that we’ve already gotten Walmart’s attention.
Walmart could be a more successful company and raise the standards in the retail industry if it embraces workers and pay middle-class wages and benefits, create and implement ethical sourcing and community benefit policies.
So this Black Friday, I’ll be outside Walmart. Perhaps next year, I can be inside shopping.