Union-backed Walmart and McDonalds’ Campaigns Face Uncertain Futures

DSC_6745New Orleans    The emperor with no clothes is not a pretty sight, and it’s almost as bad when the finger pointing at him is Dave Jamieson, a labor reporter for the Huffington Post in a piece entitled “Labor Groups are Taking on Walmart and McDonalds. But Who Will Fund the Fight?” I don’t have anything against him or the Huff Post, but this was a story we knew would be coming, the only surprise might be that it took so long to get here, and it still seems to catch us unprepared with our pants around our ankles.

The trigger for this tale is the annual meeting of Walmart gearing up in Bentonville, which has also become an annual action by organizations trying to force one of the world’s largest retailers to more accountability and better practices and standards for its workers. This year OUR Walmart is once again on the scene, but now divorced from its supporter and financier, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union and trying to go on its own. A decade ago, UFCW did much the same thing with a competing effort called WakeUp Walmart not so much as to organize but to keep their brand and jurisdictional claims alive and compete with the SEIU-backed WalmartWatch and the multi-union effort we ran to prove that Walmart workers could be organized in Florida and to establish that we could stop their expansion with aggressive work and community allies both in the US and India. New leadership at UFCW jettisoned the program support for OUR Walmart leaving them trying to keep the flame alive, all of which seems terribly reminiscent of our earlier efforts.

Jamieson asks the simple question no one likes to hear in public about the viability of OUR Walmart and the sustainability of its effort without a deep-pocketed sponsor. He raises the same question about the multi-year expenditure that SEIU has made to organize McDonalds in companion with its support of the Fight for $15 campaign. SEIU has been resolute in its commitment to these efforts. Both campaigns can claim significant victories. Walmart did move on wages at the bottom. Not to $15 per hour but up to $10 across the board at a cost of billions. SEIU has seen dividends from its Fight for $15 in cities like Seattle and Los Angeles and in states like California and New York where it has significant membership, so they can claim some success from their advocacy. McDonalds does not seem to have moved any closer to the union than Walmart has moved towards UFCW, though closer observers with better information than I have claim that SEIU’s strategy is global, is sound, and may still yield significant organizational victories as well.

And, that’s the rub. Unions are not foundations. They have to eventually see members and dues or some direct benefit from the expenditure of dues or the reaction will be predictable, just as is was with UFCW’s leadership change. And, when it comes to funding, foundations are not a substitute for workers and their dues or workers and their unions. Foundations will shine a bright penny for a minute, but they will never double down to the level needed to get to scale in fighting giant enterprises like either of these companies.

Can OUR Walmart create a real workers’ movement at the giant retailer with a strategy that produces sufficient organization and membership that will finance a long struggle? It’s possible, we proved that in Florida, but that’s a 10, 20 or 30 year project, and would represent the life work and sacrifice of many to survive, and, even surviving, would, having proven the concept, still need support at some point to get to scale. The same transition will need to occur in the McDonalds’ campaign, but hopefully with the continuity of SEIU’s support and assistance.

No one else is going to finance these struggles without workers carrying a huge part of the weight. The publicity is great, but smoke and mirrors is not organizing. David Rolf of SEIU’s big Washington State local, was quoted as saying, “The old model has failed several generations … We should encourage these experiments, but we shouldn’t romanticize it. We still haven’t figured this out.” Certainly, he’s right, but his remarks must seem gratuitous to organizers and workers deep in the struggle. OUR Walmart has proven that the day of reckoning for such experiments comes quickly, so the time for figuring it all out for all of these organizing projects remains now, before it’s too late.

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Please enjoy Beck’s Wow. Thanks to KABF.

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Walmart Upskilling or Too Good to be True

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 10.59.51 AMLittle Rock     Workers always need some good news around Labor Day and for the few that might have been reading the Wall Street Journal anytime around then, there was some amazing, life-changing, world-shaking news: Walmart had gotten religion. I don’t mean go-to-church religion, but a whole new corporate religion about how it was going to treat and value its workers at least according to the writer, Tamar Jacoby from Opportunity America, Inc.

To hear Jacoby tell it, they are “upskilling” their entire workforce, meaning that they were changing their training program from low-skilled entry level workers on up so that they could retain them longer, perhaps from 12 to 18 months, and stop some of the churn. She claimed that they were doing this partially for public relations given the current concern over inequity, but also to justify the fact that beginning next year they will be paying most rank-and-file workers $10 per hour and first line supervisors $15 per hour. Given training costs estimated at $5000 per worker, if they can stop some of the 50% “churn” common in the retail industry, Jacoby claims that they will save millions. Supposedly, this new found interest in their workers gaining new skills and enjoying more retention is in development now and will be moved to all 4500 Walmart stores “by early next year.”

What can any of us say, but “wow!” When the largest private sector employer in the United States with over one-million workers decides to pay more, add skills, and believe in seniority, this is a revolution in retail that could ripple throughout the economy. This is also a small, though insufficient, answer to the demands of unions and workers’ rights groups for more than a decade that Walmart start treating its workers more humanely, rather than like cogs in a machine. It’s a movement! Jacoby also claims this “upskilling” is a trend “rippling across the retail and service industries including McDonald’s, Starbucks, Gap Inc., CVS Health, Kaiser Permanente, and UPS are moving in the same direction.”

We can only hope this is true, but I don’t know how to reconcile this with another recent squib in the news that with sales numbers down in stores, Walmart is planning to even more aggressively employ its Bentonville, Arkansas computer-driver employee scheduling system, which has long been the bane of Walmart workers existence on the job. The computer contradiction where the company claims local managers run their stores even while the computer flip-flops workers from schedule to schedule where they are working 32 hours one period then, 16 then, 20, then 40 and back and forth.

Call me cynical, but despite how much I want to believe every word and suit up for this coming revolution, reading the list of newly enrolled true believers in their working classes, I just had to know more about Ms. Jacoby and this Opportunity America, Inc, which the Journal had called “a Washington-based nonprofit group working to promote economic mobility” because this sounded so good it read suspiciously like public relations pap.

Well, the website for Opportunity America is not very helpful, since it says essentially either nothing or the same thing on one tab after another. Under “leadership” there is only more about Jacoby, including her stints with the Times and then most recently a position with the hard rightwing business apologist and think-less-tank, the Manhattan Institute, which starts a big red warning flag waving. There are no board members listed. There is no information on donors or finances. Guidestar, the charity monitor, has essentially nothing on them anywhere and they are not registered there.

Why should they be though? Turns out they are not a tax-exempt charitable 501c3 outfit. According to TaxExemptWorld.com contributions to Opportunity America, Inc. are not tax deductible because they are a 501c4, community coalition of sorts. As all of us have come to know, a 501c4 is not required to disclose its donors either as the Koch Brothers have taught us.

Call me old-fashioned. As much as I truly want to believe that Walmart is changing its ways, this puff piece by this writer and this so-called nonprofit has a certain bad smell to it. This op-ed of sorts seems almost like a “contract” piece, bought and paid for by Walmart. Before I genuflect here, I want to know that Walmart and the rest of the companies listed are not contributors to Opportunity America, and Ms. Tamar Jacoby is not just another arms-length spokesperson, cashing in on her last century reputation but now working-for-hire to promote their least movement in something that looks like a positive direction.

Workers deserve better, but this new Walmart makeover may or may not be the good news we hope to see.

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