All they want is $25,000 a year, and to get it, they have been striking all across the country. The Walmart Moms, the so-called group of Walmart workers who are demanding fair wages in order to be able to raise their families, have now walked off the store floors in 20 different states, and their request is simple.
They want to earn enough to not have to rely on public assistance to survive.
“I have bills to pay, but I just don’t make enough money,” said Charmaine Givens-Thomas, 61, a Walmart worker on the Chicago’s North Side told Progress Illinois. Although she earns $12.05 per hour, she has to use public assistance to supplement her income. “It’s devastating, sometimes I actually run out of food.”
This weekend will be the annual Walmart shareholder’s meeting, and the Walmart Moms are hoping that their strike might be enough to finally see some policy changes put in place. Walmart’s reliance on public assistance to cover the gaps in their low wage workers’ earnings have been notorious ever since the days of Barbara Ehrenreich’s book “Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America,” when she went under cover in a Minnesota Walmart as research on surviving on minimum wage work. Over a decade later, however, little has changed. Last year one store made headlines for having a food drive at Thanksgiving for its own employees, a reminder of how little many of them are asked to live on.
Women are even harder hit, thanks to lower wages and a longstanding tendency to turn them down for promotions or hire them as managers or executives. The issue became such a predominate part of the Walmart culture that it turned into a mass gender discrimination suit.
While their employees are struggling to make ends meet, the owners themselves are doing just fine. As Clare O’Connor reports in Forbes, “The Walton family is America’s richest, worth some $140 billion between them and longtime fixtures of the Forbes 400 list thanks to their approximate 50% ownership of Walmart, the world’s largest retailer. Their Walton Family Foundation, established by the late Sam and Helen Walton in 1988, is considered a heavyweight in the world of nonprofits with just under $2 billion in assets.”
The two aren’t related, however, notes O’Connor, since for the most part the Waltons don’t give money to their own foundation. In fact, their charitable giving appears to be managed primarily as a way to grow their own wealth by avoiding taxes. “The [Walmart 1 percent] report goes on to detail how the Foundation has been funded over the years, namely by tax-avoiding trusts established with assets provided by the late Sam, Helen and John Walton or their estates. The study found that 99% of the Foundation’s contributions since 2008 have been channeled through 21 Charitable Lead Annuity Trusts. These CLATs, as they’re known, are specifically designed to help ultra-wealthy families avoid estate and gift taxes,” writes O’Connor.
It’s this hoarding of profits made by shortchanging their workers that the Walmart Moms hope to address, and a group of them are intending to be at the annual shareholder’s meeting in Bentonville, Ala., to do it. “The Walton heirs have led the company to a low point defined by the hardship they are creating for working families, the inexcusable lack of oversight of its supply chain and illegal bribery – all to increase their massive fortune, said Walmart mom and shareholder Charmaine Givens-Thomas in a statement. “Shareholders and associates want [new Walmart Chief Executive Officer] Mr. McMillon to lead our company back to a direction that Americans can be proud of.”
Just $25,000 a year. That doesn’t sound like much money, especially if you are raising a family. Yet for 825,000 Walmart workers – almost 2/3rds of their employees — $25,000 would be a massive change.
No wonder the mothers are striking.
Photo credit: Thinkstock