Wage activists take fight to Walmart on Black Friday

Wage activists take fight to Walmart on Black Friday
Charles Mostoller

While shoppers are out looking for cheap deals on the Friday after Thanksgiving, those seeking to boost minimum wages are planning a “Black Friday Block Party” outside the South Philadelphia Walmart. The activists are calling for $15-an-hour wages for the store’s employees.

“We’re not there to shame Walmart shoppers in any way,” said organizer Angela Vogel. “We’re asking them to join us us in asking Walmart for fair wages for the employees at the stores they visit.”

Walmart, the biggest retailer in the world and the most profitable U.S. company with more than $450 billion in sales a year, pays full-time employees an average wage of $12.92, according to a Walmart spokeswoman.

Full-time and part-time associates receive on average a wage of $11.83. Out of 1.2 million employees in the U.S., less than 0.05 percent or fewer than 6,000 employees make the federal minimum wage or below, according to the spokeswoman.

But Vogel cited a University of California/Berkeley study that said Walmart could increase all employees’ wages to $25,000 annually by adding just one cent to the prices of regular items. But an economist said the current wages are part of a successful low-cost business model.

“Who really benefits from low wages? The Waltons [family owners of Walmart], the shareholders. You could say the consumers because they’re getting lower prices. You could say the Walmart employees because they have a job,” said Arcadia University economics professor Scott Testa. “Walmart will tell you that the people that benefit the most are its customers.”

But Vogel, who worked in retail for 17 years, said Walmart pays “poverty wages” that lead some employees to rely on taxpayer-funded social services.

“A lot of these shoppers … may have a sense that these Walmart workers are not being paid fair wages, but they’re not really as aware of the impact on the city and the taxpayer,” she said. “Retail workers deserve better. Our message is one of inviting customers to stand for those better wages. …As a customer, you can actually influence how retail giants work.”

Walmart spokesman William Wertz released the following statement on the protests:

“It’s unfortunate that this group attempts to disrupt the holiday spirit to push their agenda. The reality is that Walmart is focused every day on providing our associates with opportunities for job growth,” Wertz said.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon announced in October that Walmart would soon raise all employees’ wages to above the federal minimum wage.

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