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New Black Friday tradition: Workers picket Walmart

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If going to the nation’s largest retailer, Walmart, happens to be in your Black Friday shopping plans, you might want to brace yourself. Some of Walmart’s workers are planning demonstrations and walkouts at hundreds of Walmart stores across the country.

One of the people protesting will be Greg Fletcher, an “associate” in the electronics department at a Walmart near Los Angeles. Fletcher and his wife both work at Walmart, and have for several years. He says they’re frustrated with the company’s low-wages, and lack of opportunities for full time work. Though they’d like more shifts, they average about 32 hours a week each.  Together, they bring home just $24,000 a year — barely above the poverty line for a family of four. The Fletchers and their two young sons make ends meet with help from food banks, and government supplied health care.

“It’s impossible,” Fletcher says, “to be completely self-supportive with an income that low. And it’s just not right.”

David Tovar, a spokesman for Walmart, which reported $16 billion in profit last year, says, “We believe we have very competitive wages that attract and retain millions of associates every day.” 

But having competitive wages in a low-wage industry like retail, isn’t saying much, according to Catherine Rutchlin, a policy analyst with the think-tank Demos. 

“More than a quarter of workers in large firms in the retail industry are people who hold jobs and yet live in or near the poverty threshold,” she says. 

Rutchlin released a study this week that found if large retailers raised the minimum hourly pay to $25,000 a year for a full time job, their workers’ increased purchasing power would have a “multiplier effect” that stimulated the whole economy. And Walmart would be a huge part of that effect. As the nation’s largest employer — with more than a million employees — it now helps set pay for the entire retail industry.  

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