Walmart Workers Strike For Higher Wages, Arrests Follow

Walmart workers and their supporters launched a fresh round of protests in 15 cities across the country on Thursday. The demonstrations, which drew several arrests, are part of the organizers' effort to surpass last year’s major Black Friday strikes, which drew several thousand employees and activists demanding higher wages.

Three Walmart employees were arrested Thursday in New York after unsuccessfully attempting to deliver a petition to board member Christopher Williams to respect workers with wage increases. Walmart spokesperson Kory Lundberg said in an email to the Huffington Post that these demonstrations are "just a show."

Groups like OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart couldn't disagree more. They are pushing Walmart to pay its workers a livable wage. This week’s rallies come after an August 22 civil disobedience demonstration calling on Walmart to raise its wages to at least $25,000 per year and to reverse the dismissal of twenty workers and the disciplining of dozens more who participated in a June strike.

Terminated worker Barbara Collins told The Nation, “if they don’t reinstate us, our actions are going to be bigger and stronger every time, and this is just the beginning.”

The protests come amid a fierce battle raging in the nation’s capital to enact a $12.50 minimum wage targeted at workers of big-box retailers like Walmart. In an op-ed in for The Washington Post, a Walmart executive said the company would scuttle plans to build three DC-area stores if the living wage bill passes.

In an interview on CNBC, Walmart CEO Mike Duke rebuked claims the Walmart doesn’t pay its workers enough. “I think less than one percent of our associates make the minimum wage,” he said. The company claims that full-time workers on average earn $12.78. But this is clearly a skewed picture. From the Huffington Post:

Walmart's $12.78 figure probably presents a misleading picture of what store workers actually make. As the company itself notes, the $12.78 calculation excludes part-time workers, and it includes department managers who are paid hourly and probably earn a good deal more than cashiers, stockers and sales associates.

Businesses such as Walmart fervently maintain that raising the minimum wage would force companies to lay off workers and increases prices. Many critics, labor activists, and even some economists couldn't disagree more. Research has consistently shown that moderately raising the minimum wage over time does not have “significant effects on employment opportunities." As economists point out, its not rocket science: when more people work, more people spend money.

The issue is not as simple as company vs. workers. One study from the UC Berkeley Labor center found that with its low wages and poor health coverage, “Wal-mart is shifting part of its labor costs onto the public,” costing taxpayers over $86 million a year in California alone.

Walmart expects a net income of $17 billion for the 2013 fiscal year.

(Image: Matt Hamilton/Flickr)