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Emboldened by the successful strike at Hostess (leaving 18,500 people out of work at the holidays), the workers of Wal-Mart are walking out ahead of their Black Friday promise. From the UK Guardian:
Strikes and protests aimed at disrupting the retail giant Walmart during next week's Black Friday sales events began on Thursday with walk-outs at a number of stores and the promise of more actions in the lead-up to what is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year.
The news comes amid controversy about plans by Walmart and other large chains to open on Thanksgiving evening, kicking off Black Friday a day early. It also comes as another strike has hit part of Walmart's warehouse supply chain in southern California.
At least 30 workers from six different Seattle-area Walmarts have gone on strike, organisers and Walmart staff from the OUR Walmart group said. The group, which is not a union but has close ties with the labour movement, is seeking to protest what it says is low pay, too few hours and retaliation by managers against workers who speak out.
Seattle Walmart worker Sara Gilbert said she had taken the decision to go on strike to protest the fact that she could only make around $14,000 dollars a year. Despite working as a customer service manager, she said, her family remained reliant on food stamps and other benefits. "I work full time at the richest company in the world," she said.
I find it very hard to believe that Ms. Gilbert is making what she claims, if she truly is a manager. She'd be making well below the minimum wage for a full-time worker. The minimum wage in Seattle is $9.03/hr. She'd be making almost 19-thousand dollars a year if she was just a minimum wage worker. That's assuming no overtime or bonuses.
If Ms. Gilbert is not happy, she is an at-will employee and can seek better compensation and more amenable condtions. If I am the boss and you walk out on me, that's a sign that you no longer want your job and I will find someone to replace you.
The balance between employers and employees hinges on the market. If there is a glut of unskilled labor available, employers can pay lower wages because there is no competition for people who can do the job. And while I'm sure Ms. Gilbert is a fine human being, if she were worth more she would be paid more. It's a simple economic reality.
Going back to the Hostess example, we saw a company that had been hit hard not only by the recession but by bad management during the good times. They were in an unsustainable place, bleeding red ink. The bakers, meanwhile, had been asked twice before to take a pay cut, this time another 8%. Considering they were making about $17/hr, it was a significant cut. But, at the same time, it was something that needed to be done to keep the company solvent.
There was some bad management, granted. But it wasn't the whole story.
Wal-Mart workers who are walking out will not see the company go under, though some cuts will probably have to be made if the local stores see significant revenue dips during their Black Friday sales.
Ultimately, they're going to end up in the same place as the Hostess union because Wal-Mart operates a similar business: Cheap products and small margins.