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!

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Has Arkansas Become a Walmart “Company” State?

New Orleans  Hey, I get it. Arkansas is what it is, a smaller, poorer state than many in the statistical match-ups in one category after another.

But, having spent a lot of time there and lived there for more than seven years in the 1970s, I can assure you it has many charms, wonderful people, especially all of my in-and-out-laws, colleagues and co-workers. Arkansas even boasts a former governor who was an occupant in the White House in Bill Clinton, and the first women to serve a full-term in the Senate, Hattie Caraway. I don’t want to even start on Petit Jean hams or the best apple fritters in the world produced by the Donut Palace in Dumas. Arkansas also is the home state of one of the biggest of the big mega-corporations in the world, Walmart, the largest private sector employer globally and in the United States that without a doubt has transformed the Fayetteville-Bentonville corridor in the northwestern part of the state over the last 50 years.

But, I’m not a flack for the state bureau of tourism, so let me work my way around to the point. I know something about company camps and company towns. I spent some of the formative years of my boyhood and youth in such outposts in places like Rangely and Wilson Creek, Colorado. For years my family made a busman’s tour of such camps all over the western states in the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, and New Mexico as well when my father was a bookkeeper and auditor for the California Company before it rebranded itself as Chevron. There are some pros, but there are a lot of cons.

It never really occurs that there was such a thing as a “company state” in the way there are company towns, until reading about the hot-breathed pursuit by cities throughout North America to be considered as the location of the Amazon’s second corporate headquarters and its claim to employ 50,000 workers at such a site. Some yahoos in the Little Rock business community are so Wally-eyed that they even slapped the Amazon bear, as the saying used to go in Arkansas. According to a piece in the New York Times:

A few applicants went in the opposite direction and sought to highlight their decision to not bid on Amazon’s second headquarters. A business group in Little Rock, Arkansas, recently took a newspaper ad (in the Washington Post, owned by Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos) and created an internet video telling Amazon it didn’t want the traffic hassles its new headquarters would bring to town.”

Perhaps needlessly, the reporter than added that, “Arkansas is the home state of Amazon’s arch-rival, Walmart.”

Don’t misunderstand me, Little Rock or anywhere in Arkansas, didn’t have the proverbial snowball’s chance in Hell of winning the second headquarters for reasons too numerous to list, but why prostrate the state to Walmart, I wondered? On second thought though, Arkansans have allowed Walmart to buy a place at the education table for charter schools and privatization throughout the state, and their money seems to have been key in taking over the Little Rock school system. The company and the family, that stacked up billions from its success, have more and more seemed to treat the state as their private playground and testing lab for pet public policies and personal preferences.

Maybe the Little Rock business folks just decided to acknowledge what should have been obvious to all of us: Arkansas is a company state for Walmart. Now that they have proven it, and I’ve said it, it would seem that Walmart should be ashamed at not having done better for the state than it has. You know the old story, if you break it, you own it. If Walmart owns Arkansas, it ought to try to be more accountable for something than its own bottom line and competitive position. Maybe even the Little Rock business community would agree to that?

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