Dear S. Robson Walton,
As chairman of the board and the eldest son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, I hope you will share this letter with other members of your family, as well as Walmart's CEO and president, Michael T. Duke.
Since last week, many of your "associates" at Walmart stores in 100 cities across the country have walked off the job, bringing world attention to the lousy pay, lack of benefits, denied collective bargaining rights and right to unionize that are, unfortunately, standard practices for Walmart. The press on these walkouts, Rob, was vast and critical of how you do business and treat your employees -- certainly not good for the legacy of your father.
Frankly, it was bad enough that your employees -- excuse me, your "associates" -- were not given Thanksgiving off with pay to spend with their families (I wonder if you were in the office that day?), but your insatiable greed actually led you to decide to keep your stores open for long hours on both Thanksgiving Day and the next day -- Black Friday, the busiest retail day of the year that launches the Christmas season. This crass and selfish act not only stole Thanksgiving from your workers, but it also lit a fuse for the entire retail industry, with cash registers nationwide singing into the wee hours of the night on Thanksgiving and again early on the morning of Black Friday, thanks to you. I suppose it suggests power to you -- in a perverse way -- that those countless other retail stores emulated your mistreatment of your employees, building a culture of low wage earners and employee disrespect that borders on abuse.
To be blunt, Rob, Walmart, in no small measure, contributes to poverty in America. These poor souls only want to support their families with dignity and have a chance to step up the economic ladder and acheive that elusive American Dream, making a better life for themselves and their children. But how can they, when one third of your 1.3 million American employees work less than 28 hours per week and on average earn $8.81 per hour? Such low wages make them eligible for food stamps and Medicaid, forcing government to subsidize your despicable labor practices, Rob, because you won't step up and do the right thing. Surely you know that such a low level of pay places your associates below the poverty level, with many having to hold two or three other jobs just to survive, let alone provide for their families.
The Black Friday walkout was well-coordinated by Our Walmart, a workers organization, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, as part of its campaign to make change at Walmart. Perhaps striking on a day other than Black Friday would have been more effective, since your customer base is also made up of low-wage earners, like their counterparts who sell to them at Walmart. These families must scrimp and save all year to buy at the lowest possible prices to stretch their precious dollars, so gifts can be purchased for those on their shopping lists. How could they afford to boycott Walmart, or walk a picket line with the strikers? They need to save every penny they can -- a captive buying public, even though many sympathize with the strikers.
You must remember, Rob, it was your associates that helped the Walton family build your business, and when your father died in 1992, he left you, your mother and your three siblings $100 billion, making him at that time one the richest men in the world. If he were alive today, he would be twice as rich as Bill Gates. This year Walmart will have raked in $444 billion in what, even by your standards, must be considered a good year. And there appears to be no downturn in sight, with Walmart's worldwide revenues estimated at $467 billion for 2013 and $493 billion in 2014, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Indeed, Walmart has over 10,000 retail units, with 2,200,000 associates in 27 countries, serving 200 million customers each week, with new units on the way in Mexico and the UK. The sheer breadth of your company's size and staggering wealth suggests the effect Walmart has on economies around the globe. You could create your own worldwide stimulus plan just by doing the right thing for those you employ who are in need. Simply provide what these dedicated workers have earned and deserve.
Bob Herbert, former columnist of the New York Times and now a fellow at the think tank Demos, reported on their recent study last week in HuffPost that the average salary of a retail worker is between $18,000-$21,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Demos study found that if salaries in this industry were raised to $25,000 per year, some 700,000 Americans would move out of poverty, and would generate between $4 and 5 billion in additional retail sales. Only a 1 percent price increase on purchases would take care of this rise in salaries.
Here then, Rob, are some suggested actions that you and your CEO can take to make this a truly happy holiday season for your hardworking employees, who continue to make you richer by the day:
1. Give all of your employees a bonus for Christmas.
2. Allow them to join a union if they wish.
3. Improve working conditions at all of Walmart's retail units.
4. Raise salaries to $25,000 per year for full time associates.
5. Give all of your workers full time work if they want it, instead of short-shrifting 1/3 of them with part-time work that cheats them of benefits and a living wage.
6. Offer a reasonable benefit package.
7. Set up a foundation -- perhaps you can name it the Sam Walton Foundation For Labor Relations -- to address labor issues and propose policy that would improve the lives of working Americans.
It's time you gave back to the country that has given you and your family so much. Who knows, this might even lead to New York City finally welcoming a Walmart here, and you achieving that long sought after jewel for the Walmart empire.
You should also watch the classic film It's a Wonderful Life on December 1st on television. It's a superb Christmas story about a man who attempts suicide on Christmas Eve because he believes his life has had no meaning and he has been a failure. He then finds, through a journey back in time with his guardian angel, Clarence, that he has indeed positively affected the lives of the people in his town. He also gets to see what would have happened to those same people if he had not been there to help them. Perhaps a little of George Bailey, the warm-hearted and caring savings and loan executive, will rub off on you Rob and Walmart?
'Tis the season for giving, after all.
Happy holiday to everyone,
Coauthored with Jonathan Stone