Walmart is the largest private employer in the country, and the company's low-wage, part-time business model has an enormous impact on our country's labor, business, and employment climate. The "Walmart Economy" is a disaster for most Americans. That's why we should all be thankful that, during this holiday season, Walmart workers across the country are again leading the fight to change the way Walmart does business.
Current and former Walmart workers who are members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) are calling on the retail giant to provide more full-time jobs with wages that can support workers and their families. OUR Walmart members are calling for an end to illegal retaliation against workers who exercise their right to speak out for a better life and improved working conditions. Their calls for change have been met with Walmart's illegal response of firing and disciplining workers who speak out for change -- actions that recently prompted the National Labor Relations Board to announce its decision to prosecute the retailer for its widespread violations of workers' rights.
The image of a Walmart store holding a holiday food drive for its own employees recently ignited a firestorm of outrage across the country, as it should. There is no excuse for Walmart's drive to put profits ahead of its 1.4 million workers -- a strategy that is mimicked by other retailers and which forces more and more workers to rely on taxpayer funded programs to survive. Earlier this year, a study released by the minority on the House Education and the Workforce Committee calculated that just one Walmart supercenter costs taxpayers from $900,000 to $1.7 million annually for programs such as Medicaid and food stamps for underpaid workers. Given that Walmart has 4,000 stores, the annual cost to taxpayers could be in the neighborhood of $3 billion.
Walmart can afford to pay its workers more. The company made $17 billion in profits in the last fiscal year, and just six members of the Walton Family -- heirs to the Walmart empire -- have a combined family fortune that is estimated to be over $144.7 billion. Their net worth is already greater than the wealth held by 42 percent of American families combined. And this year, they will collect more than $3.1 billion in Walmart dividends -- that's $8.5 million every day.
A new report from the think tank Demos shows that Walmart could easily provide workers with full-time jobs that pay a minimum annual wage of $25,000 without raising prices - simply by reinvesting the billions it now spends repurchasing its own stock and doling out dividends to the Walton heirs who inherited their shares in the company from founders Sam and Bud Walton.
Walmart's elaborate stock buybacks do nothing to improve the company's operations, but they have raised the Walton family's stake to 51 percent -- giving them outright control of this so-called public company. That means the Waltons have the power to change Walmart simply by choosing to be better corporate citizens and invest in its workforce. Unfortunately, they have so far shown no inclination to do so, preferring instead to stick with a profit-at-any-cost business model that hurts workers, communities, and our entire economy.
Walmart's business practices affect us all. Walmart and the Waltons must be held accountable for driving down the standard of living for millions of retail workers. Leading up to and on Black Friday, the brave men and women of OUR Walmart are taking a stand for better jobs so that they can make enough to contribute to their local economies and communities.