On Wages, If Walmart can Raise Wages, Why Not Everyone

Shreveport       Walmart is still the world and America’s largest single private sector employer. Headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas, they still leave a huge footprint in their home state just as they do around the world.  For decades, Walmart led the race to the bottom, sweating workers on wages and hours, allegedly and likely discriminating on gender and perhaps race according to numerous filings, and practicing wholesale disruption, many would say destruction, in communities and countries around the world, even before that became a tech catchphrase.   In recent years because of corruption scandals in Mexico, India, and elsewhere and constant pushback and publicity about the negative practices that built its brand and its impacts, Walmart has tried to put a glove on its iron fist.

Partly in reaction to the tight labor supply in recent years as the economy improved and partially because the national minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 for over a decade now, Walmart has become a leader of sorts in announcing minimum wage rates for all of its hourly employees.  Most recently the company announced that it was moving all of its workforce to no less than $11.00 per hour.

On Wade’s World  I talked to David Couch, a Little Rock based lawyer who is frequently the standard bearer and last line of legal defense for progressive forces in Arkansas and is the sparkplug behind a committee that is trying to get the signatures to put an initiative on the ballot there to raise the minimum wage.  The Arkansas minimum wage is now $8.50, since a similar initiative was approved by the voters in 2014.  This ballot initiative would raise the wage to $9.25 in 2019, then $10 per hour in 2020, and in 2011 wages would be – yes, you guessed it — $11 per hour.  Couch said he got the idea from Walmart.  If Walmart could raise everyone to $11 now, then surely the rest of Arkansas should follow.

Of course, Arkansas has a long mountain climb in order to win this fall.  First, they have to get more than the 20,000 signatures from registered voters they have now up to over 67,000 with 75% of them being valid by July 6th.  Then they have 14 days to “cure” the petitions and 30 days grace to get to the 125,000 signatures they want to make sure it’s on the ballot.  Couch has a paid canvass crew on the job around the state.  In 2014, the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO told me they raised $500,000 for the effort then.  Couch said he was able to raise the full amount for this effort from a deep-pocketed nonprofit c4 group.  They are in it to win it.

Stepping back and looking at other states and the tight labor market throughout the country, no matter what anyone thinks about Walmart, why can’t we all follow their lead, and push to win $11.00 per hour for workers now?

Let’s play follow the leader!


What Happened to the New Poor Peoples’ Campaign?

New Orleans   We are in the thick of the forty days of week by week protests called to take place around the country by the Poor Peoples’ Campaign:  A Call for Moral Revival.  After huge pre-campaign publicity that included a lengthy profile of the campaign’s leader, North Carolina’s Rev. William Barber, in The New Yorker and other national papers and publications, now the silence is deafening.  There has been virtually no national press that I have seen on the effectiveness or even the existence of the protests on various themes.  The campaign’s own website seems to prove this as well with no postings of articles on its “press” section since the campaign began.  What’s happening?

Local 100 United Labor Unions is a member of the campaign in Little Rock, but there’s no evidence of the current campaign in New Orleans, Houston, or Dallas where we also have offices.  The Little Rock protests, joined by the union and our ally, the Arkansas Community Organizations (ACO), formerly Arkansas ACORN, have been reported locally.  They have been regular and feisty with occasional arrests for civil disobedience of several people, but they have been smallish with often only twenty or so participants.  Large rallies in Washington, D.C. are heralded on the campaign’s website for later in June, so the energy and emphasis for the campaign may be going towards those events, but the lack of action in many cities is worrisome, especially since the list of partners was extensive, including a number of large labor unions and religious denominations.   Normally, that level of support would have translated into a more recognizable local footprint for the campaign, but tellingly, none of the national church-based community organizing networks Faith in Action, Gamaliel, DARE, or the IAF are listed as campaign partners.

What are we to conclude at the midpoint of what we would have hoped indicated a resurgence of interest in and activity by the poor?  It seems clear that people so far just aren’t answering the “call for moral revival.”  They are voting with their feet and their bottoms are staying in their chairs.  People are moving around politics everywhere, but that has not translated to the campaign.  In fact, the almost apolitical nature of the campaign and its focus on a moral awakening, rather than empowerment has been one of the continual, but quiet criticisms.

In fairness, it is hard, if not impossible to assemble a “volunteer army” for social change, and there are few signs that the campaign fully understood the need for infrastructure and a deeply supported organizing structure.  Our union gets lots of calls from the campaign to act, but aside from the hectoring, little real support from the campaign itself.  A campaign of any kind faces a high mountain to climb when it is asking organizations and supporters to put aside their daily work in order to pick up the banner for something else, especially when the call involves something different week after week.  This may not have been a winning strategy for the Poor Peoples’ Campaign.

Rev. Barber and his Moral Mondays efforts in North Carolina were galvanizing while he was head of the state NAACP there, and he has clearly become an important voice for change and a tireless advocate for the poor.  The NAACP is not listed as a partner in this campaign though, which also speaks to some unresolved internal issues.  One fears that the campaign’s embrace of the national press and the speaker’s bureau approach rather than real organizational building and support may have inadvertently made this effort more about building Barber’s “brand,” than building something real on the ground.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a master in the pulpit, but he led a deeply rooted organizational base and led a real movement.  Making the call isn’t enough, and never is a substitute for real action and work.  We need a real poor peoples’ campaign, so let’s hope the seeds are being sown now to build for more and more in the future.


Please enjoy Lori McKenna’s People Get Old.

Ice Cream and Cigarettes by Million Miles.

Thanks to KABF.