06/16/2015 09:35 am ET Updated Jun 16, 2016

New Walmart Ads: An Exercise in Lip Service


Have you seen the new Walmart commercials? They're fabulous. They're heartwarming. They bring back any faith in humanity you may have lost. Actually, they're a spectacular exercise in disingenuous, masturbatory fiction.

Walmart has begun to inundate the airwaves with their new commercials about how great they are. They want everyone to know how much they value their employees by taking them out of abject poverty into just slightly below what's considered poverty by most standards.

Here's a clip staring Miguel Rivera, an apparent typical Walmart employee. As the YouTube description states, "he's a wonderful brother, son, and a Walmart inventory supervisor."

He takes pride in making sure our customers have a great experience, which is why we take pride in making sure he has one too by investing over $1 billion this year in higher wages, education and training. Thank you, Miguel, for everything you do.

Both Miguel and his mother work at Walmart. After a little "setback" about a year and a half ago Miguel got his mom a job working with him at Walmart because it's important that families stay together and make sure that they're all there for each other. As Miguel finishes up his narrative, the scene fades and we hear a gruff yet sensitive voice say, "Walmart is investing in the most important part of our company. Our people. Because a raise in pay raises us all." The screen fades to black and the following text appears: "We're investing over $ 1 billion this year in higher wages, education and training."

The term "setback" may sound familiar. It's the term used by corporations and Republicans when horrible things happen to poor people or to middle class people, making them poor as a result. These life events, such as foreclosures, life threatening illnesses, debilitating hospital bills, death are simply referred to as "setbacks." They keep you out of work, in debt, and in despair. In Miguel's case that "setback" came in the form of his sister dying and his mom having to care for her while she was sick. And if his sister worked at Walmart she probably didn't have health insurance. So, yes, dying of an illness that may have been prevented or cured would certainly constitute a setback.

Walmart is notorious for cutting employee hours in order to not provide health care benefits. Last year alone they cut health benefits for 30,000 employees. How's that for "raising us all?"

There are other "Tomorrow Starts Today" ads with different "employees" all with happy shiny people gushing their praises of how fabulous it is to work at Walmart. In each of the ads, at some point there's a register checkout sign displaying the number 15.

Great isn't it? Walmart is going to invest all that money into its employees. People are going to get raises, training, education, and a whole new lease on life. The progressive movement really seems to have melted their hearts.

Here's the thing though: According to an article in the New York Times earlier this year, Walmart is only planning to raise its wages to $9 an hour and maybe $10 an hour sometime later this year. The number 15 of course is in response to numerous protests by Walmart employees demanding a living wage and similar nationwide rallies for a $15 minimum wage. The number looks good in the ad, but Walmart has no intention of raising anyone's wage to $15 an hour. All that camera shot tells anyone is that there are at least 15 people working the register who are not earning enough to live on.

While $1 billion may seem like a lot, particularly to someone earning $9 an hour, it's a drop in the bucket for Walmart. The Walton family members (Jim, Alice, Robson, Ann, and Nancie) who own Walmart, have a combined worth of over $100 Billion -- more than the combined wealth of 40 percent of the country. Forty-nine million people in this country could throw all of their money into a big pile and the six Waltons would still have more.

Walmart's CEO, Michael Duke, made it on to Alternet's "10 Greediest People in America," coming in at number eight -- although all 10 could have easily tied for number one. Duke reportedly makes just under $7,000/hour, nearly 800 times the amount of an average Walmart employee and is sitting on $113.2 million in retirement assets, thanks to a tax loophole that lets corporate execs annually set aside unlimited sums, tax-free, into their retirement accounts.

Nine dollars an hour, by the way, is still poverty wages. On that wage, if an employee were working 40 hours per week every week of the year they would make just under $19,000 per year -- still below poverty. According to a report by Demos think tank, if Walmart were to reinvest in its employees rather than spending $7.6 billion a year buying back its own stock, all 2.2 million employees could be making $25,000 per year of full time work.

And that's not all. Because Walmart pays such deplorably low wages, the employees of the store are forced to turn to social services like Medicaid, Welfare and food stamps in order to survive.

From Paddy Ryan at the Daily Kos:

Walmart's employees receive $2.66 billion in government help every year, or about $420,000 per store. They are also the top recipients of Medicaid in numerous states. Why does this occur? Walmart fails to provide a livable wage and decent healthcare benefits, costing U.S. taxpayers an annual average of $1.02 billion in healthcare costs. This direct public subsidy is being given to offset the failures of an international corporate giant who shouldn't be shifting part of its labor costs onto the American taxpayers.

But Walmart is about "raising us all," right? Why every year they collect food donations for employees who don't make enough money working at Walmart to feed their families. See? Community, caring, giving. It's the Walmart way.

And as far as caring for their workers and the environment and conditions they work in, Walmart also has a little film about that. A Walmart orientation videos was leaked recently revealing Walmart's anti-union efforts. Labor experts and Walmart employees were surprised at the blatant untruths in many of the video's pro-company and anti-union statements.

The Atlantic reported last month:

One former Walmart store manager tells the story that after discovering a pro-union flyer in his store's men's room, he informed company headquarters and within 24 hours, an anti-union SWAT team flew to his store in a corporate jet. And when the meat department of a Walmart store in Texas became the retailer's only operation in the United States to unionize, back in 2000, Walmart announced plans two weeks later to use prepackaged meat and eliminate butchers at that store and 179 others.

The new commercials are unsurprisingly self-congratulatory and obviously a result of public pressure over the last few years. There is, of course, no indication of that anywhere in the ads.

I'm not suggesting that the ads should mention the pressure from employees, consumers and society, but the self-indulgent videos could have been slightly less disingenuous. Maybe something in the way of, "Our customers and employees spoke up and we heard them. After some thought, we realized what a bunch of greedy pigs we were and decided it was time do something to shut you up. So here's a few extra bucks in case you get sick."

A better and more truthful ad than the ones they decided to air, would have been scenes of children working in coal mines with the voice over saying, "Hey, it could be worse. Now get back to work."

Follow Richard Zombeck at Liberals Unite and Facebook