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!