My Turn: The real Walmart

  • Sunday, February 7, 2016 1:01am
  • Opinion

Over the past few weeks, 154 Walmart stores all across the United States have been closing down, affecting an estimated 10,000 employees. As you may know, the Walmart in Juneau was one of these stores, and 168 Alaskans lost their jobs.

These hard-working Wal-Mart workers are our friends and neighbors. Morale at the stores was low even before Wal-Mart’s corporate leaders announced the closings. Many of these employees were struggling to feed and clothe their families while earning wages so low it was impossible to save for future emergencies, let alone plan a comfortable retirement. They endured random scheduling practices, making it extremely difficult to plan from one day to the next.

The irony here is Wal-Mart is not a struggling company forced to make difficult decisions. Last year, it made $16 billion in profits. CEO Doug McMillon was paid $26 million in 2014 – more than 1,500 times the wages a typical Wal-Mart worker will make under the company’s recently announced “wage increases.”

Does this sound like a struggling company to you?

These closures have less to do with Walmart stores, but more about its stock, the wealth of these elites and the fact they believe their employees are disposable. Consider, for instance, that thousands of Walmart employees were given little notice of the closings and now face an uncertain future.

Walmart wants you to think nothing is wrong. Its executives say “the hope” is that all the employees who lost jobs will be transferred to other locations, while those who aren’t will receive 60 days of pay, plus severance if they are eligible. Of course, in Juneau, there are no reasonably close stores to be transferred to, and the company even blocked information about a job fair specifically for Juneau Walmart workers from reaching these workers.

When it comes to Walmart, you can neither trust its words or deeds.

For example, when Walmart closed down five stores all across the country last year for “plumbing problems,” it promised it would transfer employees to nearby locations, and said they hoped to reinstate all the employees when the store reopened. However, dozens of employees at a store in Pico Rivera, California, were never transferred and were not reinstated.

When Walmart made a commitment to U.S. manufacturing three years ago, it promised to buy $250 billion in products that support American jobs. But we soon found out that Walmart is still sending hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas, and many products that were proudly labeled “Made in the U.S.A.” on its website actually have foreign origins.

Walmart also recently announced better scheduling and more ways to advance in the company. In reality, the last time the retailer announced wage increases, many workers reported that their hours were cut, and that they’ve yet to see any improvements in scheduling or opportunities for growth.

Now, 10,000 of these American workers are out of a job. One-hundred and sixty-eight Alaskans are out of a job.

This is the real Walmart.

It is a company that will say one thing and then do the opposite. It is a company that puts billions of profits and its public image over the well-being of workers, their families and our community.

We believe they must and can be better than this. Until they change for the better, we should be giving our hard-earned dollars to the businesses here in Alaska that reflect our values and value our citizens.

• Jess Levin is a part of Making Change at Walmart.

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