The Price of Freedom at Walmart

05/25/2011 01:15 pm ET
  • Nan Aron President, Alliance for Justice and Alliance for Justice Action Campaign

Take 6 minutes out of your day and watch a new video, Walmart Workers for Change. It shows as effectively as anything I've seen what's happened in America where we now have one set of rules for those at the top and another set for the rest of us. It also shows why Walmart workers and lots of other Americans want Republicans in Congress to stop blocking a majority vote in the Senate on the Employee Free Choice Act.

The video starts with a Walmart worker named Gary Arnold talking about how his pay and benefits are so low that "I feel like a high school kid working at McDonald's." Then Mary Watkines tells how after working for Walmart for 10 years she still makes only $11 an hour and qualifies for food stamps.

As other workers in the film point out, Walmart is the biggest company in the country, making $12 billion in profits last year despite the economic crisis. It can afford to pay a wage that supports a family.

Workers in the video tell how they are trying to form a union, only to be grilled and intimidated by their direct supervisors who control their jobs and chances for promotion. A former store manager explains how she was required to report any union sympathies among what the company likes to call their "associates" to Walmart headquarters in Arkansas. Top executives would then send out a team to threaten workers at that store that they would lose benefits and maybe even see the store close.

"The associates are intimidated and afraid," says Cyndi Murray, a Walmart worker from Laurel, Maryland. "I live in America. My family and other families have paid the price of freedom. And when you tell me that I can't talk about a union -- you're taking my freedom from me."

The film features President Obama explaining why he supports the Walmart workers. Along with a majority in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, he also supports the Employee Free Choice Act that would make it easier for workers to choose to have a union without employer interference. A majority could just sign cards saying they want a union, companies like Walmart would face real penalties if they interfered, and CEOs wouldn't be able to delay forever in negotiating a union contract.

As a new Alliance for Justice fact sheet explains, passage of the Employee Free Choice Act is a key to progressive change in America on a whole range of social justice issues by making it easier for workers to form unions. Union members today are a key voice on green jobs, affordable health care, public education, equal opportunity, civil rights, housing, women's and children's issues, and consumer protection.

As President Obama says of the workers' campaign, "It's not about attacking Walmart. This is about demanding more responsibility from an extraordinarily successful and profitable company. "And in the process making change in America by uniting "ordinary people to do extraordinary things."