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Are wages or union membership driving Walmart protests?

Updated

The ongoing labor saga between Walmart and their employees now centers on whether Thursday’s labor protests in 15 cities were substantial or not.

Walmart sent MSNBC the following statement regarding the protests:

Once again, it looks like the UFCW threw a party and nobody showed up. Despite promises of ‘thousands of workers’ protesting this week, the union failed to deliver more than a smattering of paid protesters at their 15 orchestrated events. At most, 50 of the participants actually work for Walmart, put another way, that’s less than one-tenth of one percent of our 1.3 million associates.

You see so few current associates participating because they understand the unparalleled opportunity Walmart provides. For example, 75% of our store management teams started as hourly associates, we have more than 300,000 associates who have been with the company for 10 years or more and every year we promote 160,000 associates to jobs with higher pay and more responsibility,

The UFCW is quickly becoming the boy who cried wolf. They put out news releases with big promises, but fail to deliver on those promises. It was proven again this week that the OUR Walmart group doesn’t speak for the vast majority of Walmart associates.

David Tovar

Vice President, Walmart Corporate Communications

The tension between the company and its workers was represented well by the contentious debate that erupted in #nerdland during Saturday’s discussion on Melissa Harris-Perry.

The host and her panel discussed whether the largest retail chain in the United States could operate on an alternative model like Costco or In-N-Out Burger, both of which pay their workers better wages. “You can’t compare these sort of apples and oranges business models and say well if Walmart could just be like this company,” said Michael Saltsman, research director at the Employment Policies Institute.

While privately owned and public business models have nuanced differences, workers think Walmart’s reluctance to change or raise wages significantly has negative effects on the company. “Walmart is always having the turnover rate of the associate because they’re not satisfied,” said Colby Harris, a Walmart employee who was jailed in Dallas for his participation in Thursday’s protest.

The labor movement’s involvement in the Walmart protests received a mixed reaction from the table. “This is not at the end of the day about workers. This is about labor unions that want to build up their membership,” said Saltsman.

David Cay Johnston, author of The Fine Print, couldn’t disagree more saying, “Unions represent market economics because you have informed people on one side. The U.S. Supreme Court definition of a market is you have to be informed. You have to be without any restraint upon you and you have to reach an agreed upon price. That’s not what’s going on when you don’t have a union.”

The back-and-forth continued with Saltsman questioning the actions by unions. “The UFCW and organizations like Good Jobs First are slandering Walmart, have started websites, have put out reports to make exaggerated claims, are holding these protests, are trying to disrupt the company’s business,” he said.

“That’s how democracy works,” Johnston responded. “You don’t like democracy, Michael.”

Watch the rest of the discussion below.

Correction: An earlier edition of this article misidentified Michael Saltsman’s employer as the Economic Policies Institute. It has been changed to the proper name, the Employment Policies Institute.

Are wages or union membership driving Walmart protests?

Updated