This week, the first of 154 Wal-Mart stores will begin to close across the country, nine of them in California. An estimated 10,000 employees are affected.
These hard-working Wal-Mart workers are our friends and neighbors. Morale at the stores was low even before Wal-Mart’s corporate leaders announced the closings. Many of these employees were struggling to feed and clothe their families while earning wages so low it was impossible to save for future emergencies, let alone plan a comfortable retirement. They endured random scheduling practices, making it extremely difficult to plan from one day to the next.
The irony here is Wal-Mart is not a struggling company forced to make difficult decisions. Last year, it made $16 billion in profits. CEO Doug McMillon was paid $26 million in 2014 – more than 1,500 times the wages a typical Wal-Mart worker will make under the company’s “wage increases” announced in 2015.
The founding Walton family possesses an estimated $144.7 billion – more wealth than 42 percent of Americans combined.
Does this sound like a struggling company to you?
These closures have less to do with Wal-Mart stores than it has to do with stock values and the personal wealth of the corporate elites, as well as the fact they believe their employees are disposable. Thousands of employees were given little notice of the closings and now face an uncertain future.
Wal-Mart wants you to think nothing is wrong. Its executives say they “hope” all the employees who lost their jobs will be transferred to other locations, while the rest will receive 60 days of pay, plus severance “if they are eligible.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to Wal-Mart, you can trust neither its words nor its deeds.
For example, when Wal-Mart closed five stores last year for “plumbing problems,” the company promised it would transfer the affected employees to nearby locations and said it hoped to reinstate all of them when their stores reopened. Yet dozens of employees at a store in Pico Rivera were never transferred or reinstated.
Three years ago, Wal-Mart promised to buy $250 billion in products made in America. But we soon learned that Wal-Mart is still sending hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas and that many items labeled “Made in the U.S.A.” on its website actually have foreign origins.
When Wal-Mart announced last year it was making a “$1 billion investment” in its employees, it promised wage increases, better scheduling practices and more ways to advance in the company. In reality, many employees reported their hours were cut and they’ve yet to see any improvements in scheduling or opportunities for growth.
Now, 10,000 of these employees are out of a job. This is the real Wal-Mart. It puts billions of profits and its public image over the well-being of its workers, their families and their communities.
Wal-Mart must and can be better than this. Until it changes for the better, we should be giving our hard-earned dollars to businesses that respect their workers. When you shop at these stores, you support companies with a record of meeting with their employees, negotiating good contracts and providing superior wages, benefits and workplace protections.
Jacques Loveall is president of UFCW 8-Golden State, which represents grocery employees and other workers between the Oregon border and Kern County. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.