Walmart workers gathered outside the company’s home office in Bentonville, Arkansas, Monday continuing to demonstrate for fair wages and improved labor practices. That action specifically protested what they call “illegal retaliation” against striking Walmart workers.
Host Melissa Harris-Perry, on her Sunday show, explored the latest employee action against the super chain.
At least 100 Walmart workers joined the first prolonged strike that begin last Tuesday. Part of the prolonged strike included a caravan called the “Ride for Respect” that made stops in at least 30 cities. The ride, which ended on Saturday in Bentonville, was modeled after the freedom rides of the 1960s.
The workers are in Bentonville ahead of the company’s annual shareholder’s meeting on Friday, where they hope to voice their concerns.
“There is no question that the Walmart force is the one that we ought to be talking about in terms of what we do about the decline of middle class opportunity in America,” said Huffington Post business editor Peter Goodman. “They are paying [many of] their workers…poverty level wages.”
Michigan State economics professor Lisa Cook went one step further. ”They need to be able to make something so they can spend something.”
The exact wages of part-time and full-time Walmart employees is unknown as the company has not released that specific information.
According to a new study prepared by the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the low wages that Walmart workers earn force them to rely on foods stamps and other forms of government aid. The report estimates that one Wisconsin Walmart super center with 300 employees cost taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.7 million dollars.
Harris-Perry asked her panel if the dream of getting a job at a local retailer and earning enough money to eventually buy a home was still possible. The answer was sobering.
“It’s defunct,” said Goodman. ”We recently had a story at the Huffington Post about a guy who works at a Kentucky Fried Chicken her in New York in Brooklyn, and this guy is an Ecuadorian immigrant and he’s being supported by cash infusion from his grandmother in Ecuador just so he can pay the bills in Brooklyn.”
Allentown, PA., mayor Ed Pawlowski recommended that to get Walmart to consider change, tactics need to be different. “If you just keep vilifying Walmart and not figure out a way to work with them, we’re never going to get anywhere.”
Yet the workers who are currently on the front lines don’t see their demands as extreme.
Guest Colby Harris, who works at a Walmart near Dallas, talked about what workers would like to see change. “Some of the changes we’d like to see would be consistency with scheduling, and for managers to start respecting us as far as the way they talk to us. The fact is that a lot of people are making a poverty wage and can’t afford to have enough gas to get back and forth to work.”
“We’re not anti-Walmart, we’re pro-associate,” said Harris.
See Harris-Perry’s interview with Harris and former Walmart associate Vanessa Ferriera below.