President Obama Should Not Be Honoring Walmart

Statement of Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project

We are dismayed by President Obama’s decision to honor Walmart today. Its pay and labor practices are appalling—and should be recognized as such.

Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, with 1.4 million employees, had $16 billion in profits last year on revenues of $473 billion, but pays its workers so poorly that many struggle to support their families. By the company’s own admission, more than half of Walmart’s workers earn less than $25,000 per year. And the company has been ruthless in dealing with workers who have tried to join together to demand better pay.

Indeed, Walmart has become a symbol for inequality itself: the six heirs to the Walmart fortune have as much wealth as the bottom 41.5 percent of U.S. households combined. Meanwhile, the company isn’t shy about accepting public subsidies: taxpayers pay an estimated $6.2 billion each year to subsidize Walmart’s low wages.

Walmart’s outsourcing practices also are deeply troubling. To keep prices low and profits high, Walmart has become infamous for relentlessly squeezing its suppliers and contractors, who respond by cutting corners on safety and violating wage laws. The workers at bottom of Walmart’s supply chain end up working for poverty wages in harsh working conditions, thanks to unyielding pressure from up top.

We urge President Obama to take advantage of his time today with Walmart executives to push them to improve wages and working conditions for their employees as well as for the workers throughout their supply chain whose livelihoods are ultimately in the company’s hands.

Walmart’s “always low prices” and value for shareholders can never justify pay and labor practices that force workers to toil for poverty wages, labor in dangerous conditions, and suffer illegal retaliation for standing together. We know that President Obama cares about the quality of jobs in America. We hope he will stand firm in urging Walmart to care too.

Emma Stieglitz
(646) 200-5307

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