On Final
The People’s Campaign: Justice@Wal-Mart

By Doug Dority
Air Line Pilot, February 2003, p. 55

As International President of the 1.4 million-member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, America’s neighborhood union, I can tell you our members across the United States and Canada are connected to America’s families. We see them every day as they fill shopping carts to put breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the table. We are the union of the meat cutter, the produce clerk, and the cashier.

"Now is the time to demand that Wal-Mart recognize the right of workers to have a voice at work so they can demand affordable health insurance."

No one hears more, and knows more, about what’s going on in the community and around this country than a supermarket cashier. And I am going to share with you what every cashier hears about everyday at the checkout line. It’s simple. It’s sad. And it’s threatening America.

Cashiers are hearing that people cannot make ends meet, because the kind of jobs that families relied on for a decent standard of living, for health care protection, for a secure retirement, are disappearing.

The jobs that made America a working middle-class country are almost gone. Children today are not going to be better off than their parents, or even their grandparents. The jobs of the 21st century are most likely to have low wages, no benefits, and a high turnover, a revolving door into a poverty-level labor market.

The jobs of the 21st century are more likely to be at Wal-Mart than at any other company. With 1,400,000 workers and growing, Wal-Mart will define living and working standards for generations of workers and their families.

Want to see working America’s future? Take a look at a Wal-Mart pay stub.

An average Wal-Mart worker makes about $8.50 an hour with about 32 hours per week. That’s gross pay of $423.76 for the 2-week pay period. On average pay, most Wal-Mart workers cannot afford health insurance. Average pay leaves many Wal-Mart families eligible for food stamps or other welfare programs.

Take a look at the pay stub for a worker with Wal-Mart family health insurance—$192.05 deducted from his or her pay every 2 weeks. That’s about 30 percent going for health insurance.

Wal-Mart has no real pension. The average retiring Wal-Mart worker gets a lump-sum payment out of his or her profit-sharing plan and 401(k) that’s only in four figures. Both are so heavily invested in Wal-Mart stock they’d make Enron blush.

The pay won’t keep a family out of poverty, and the health care plan has deductibles and co-payments so high that the average Wal-Mart family can barely afford to use it. Even with the poverty-level pay and high-priced benefits, you cannot count on the job.

Wal-Mart turns over 500,000—a half-million—workers every year.

At current rates, by mid-century, everybody will be working at, or will have worked for, Wal-Mart. The effect of Wal-Mart is like throwing a boulder in a pond—it doesn’t produce ripples, it produces waves that overwhelm everything in their wake.

Wal-Mart is the largest employer and the largest retailer, which makes it the largest private-sector buyer of goods and services. It sets the wage and benefit standards for the tens of thousands of companies that produce the goods that fill Wal-Mart’s shelves.

If Wal-Mart decides to go on an overseas shop-ping spree, American-based companies shift their production off-shore to meet Wal-Mart’s shopping habits.

If Wal-Mart buys in countries where child labor is prevalent, producers shift investment in pursuit of the lowest wages and the most easily exploited labor.

No one is immune from Wal-Mart or the corporate culture that it creates—a culture in which a high-profit company can condemn workers to chronic economic insecurity. It is a culture in which corporate power is so complete and profits so high that a company can be completely unresponsive, irresponsible, and unaccountable for its actions and its negative effect on workers, consumers, and communities.

An alternative exists. In November 2002, the UFCW and other organizations announced the formation of The People’s Campaign—Justice@Wal-Mart. The People’s Campaign is a national catalyst for local-action, grassroots community coalitions in every state, city, town, village, and neighborhood. The People’s Campaign is America rising, reasserting its values, providing for its families, and protecting its communities.

On Nov. 21, 2002, we launched The People’s Campaign—Justice@Wal-Mart with a National Day of Action in more than 100 stores across America. We were not protesting against Wal-Mart. We were demonstrating for traditional American values and standards.

The People’s Campaign is demanding corporate accountability. We are fighting for a better future for American working families. If Wal-Mart wants to be America’s store, then Wal-Mart must respect America’s values. Wal-Mart must provide America with

• good jobs with living wages and affordable health benefits;

• safe stores for workers and consumers;

• fair business practices;

• equal treatment for all workers and customers;

• an end to trade in goods from countries with child labor, forced or slave labor; and

• respect for the rights of workers, consumers, and citizens to have their voices heard.

Right now, Wal-Mart is a corporate outlaw. But nowhere is the corporate irresponsibility more apparent than on the issue of health care, because more than 40 million working families are uninsured and tens of millions more are underinsured.

At the center of the health care crisis is Wal-Mart, driving costs up, and driving coverage down for all Americans. Two-thirds of Wal-Mart employees do not have Wal-Mart health insurance—that’s about 933,000 workers. The health care costs for these workers do not disappear—the costs get shifted to our employers and to taxpayers.

Wal-Mart itself said it best: Wal-Mart associates "usually get their health care benefits from a spouse or the state or federal government."

Every dollar in health care costs that Wal-Mart shifts drives up the costs for everybody else and drives down coverage for everybody else as employers and workers drop insurance because they cannot afford the cost increases.

When national health care reform was proposed, Wal-Mart opposed it. The retail giant gets a competitive advantage, it lowers its costs and raises the costs of its competitors. Wal-Mart gets away with hijacking the health care system because we let Wal-Mart do it.

Now is the time to demand that Wal-Mart pay its share of health care costs. Now is the time to demand that Wal-Mart recognize the right of workers to have a voice at work so they can demand affordable health insurance.

This article is reprinted with permission from the American Income Life Insurance Company’s AIL Labor Agenda, December 2002.