I live in Mount Pleasant within minutes of approximatly 10 grocery stores. Many choices from which to purchase the loads of food we, as a family of four, seem to go through each week. Even though there is an abundance of these markets in my area, I was not shocked to learn of a newly proposed Walmart facility near the intersection of Hwy 20 and Hwy 31.
I am certain it would be of no surprise to those familiar with my politics and sensibilities that I would be against such a seemingly absurd venture. This is simply one more symptom of our failing conception of what is right, logical and responsible. Many pride themselves in being of a nation devoted to capitalism and a free market economy. But if what I am about to share with you is what it means to be a capitalist country, then I truly do not share in that pride.
There is no question that Walmart is nearing monopoly status. And because of this, they set the standard for the treatment of workers in this field. And the standard they are setting is embarrassingly accepted in the eyes of our communities.
In 2004, Capital Times reported that 3,765 Wisconsin Walmart employees received aid from Badgercare. The cost to taxpayers was said to be $4.75 million. The insurance which this multi billion dollar big box company offers its employees is often far too expensive with the wages they make. Many employees who do opt for coverage feel as though the majority of their paycheck goes right back into Walmart’s pocket in the form of premiums and products. After all, with wages such as $7 an hour, Walmart is all they can afford.
Employees are often kept part time so that benefits are not entitled. They have been known to doctor time sheets in order to keep anyone from accruing overtime (and lawsuits have arisen due to this). They refuse to hire an adequate number of employees and instead make the ones they have pick up the slack without compensation.
Walmart receives BILLIONS in subsidies. Small businesses do not. How are they to compete? We hear of this brilliant concept of competition meant to benefit everyone – customers, employers, employees. I call B.S. In a perfect world, perhaps this would ring true. But when a corporation, which is already on the brink of owning our country, gets handouts while its competitors have to scrape bottom just to make it through the next month – that is not fair business. That is, in essence, tyranny.
Sentry – a store across the road from Walmart’s new proposed location – employs about 60 people at an average of $13 an hour. The average hourly wage for a Walmart associate is $8.81. One woman I spoke with makes $11 an hour after 7 years. She feels nervous that her wage will soon be capped as many of her coworkers have already had that happen following many years of service.
I hear the argument ranting ‘how dare we oppose anything that will bring jobs to our city’. I hear our legislators promising significant increases in job creation. A job is a job and its better than nothing…perhaps that is true. But ya know what…those are NOT the jobs we need. Those are NOT the jobs which can support a family. Those are NOT the jobs which will improve our suffering economy. Serving jobs at Red Lobster and cashier jobs at Walmart are not creating anything except an alternative when there is no other choice. And what happens to those jobs at Sentry when Walmart drives them out of business? That really isn’t job creation, is it?
There is nothing wrong with a serving job or a customer service position. That is unless those employees are being manipulated, over worked and underpaid. We are not talking about 16 year olds who need extra money for the weekends. We are talking about people who need to feed their families and keep them off the streets. Working in one of those industries can be admirable and enjoyable employment – when employees are treated properly.
Billions of dollars are used to supply these stores with Chinese made products. Items made by exploited workers who live in slave-like conditions. It has been said that Walmart is basically a Chinese company with American board members. Building a Walmart on every corner in America will not rescue our financial stability. In fact, it will do quite the opposite.
From crucifying mom and pop businesses to violating endless EPA laws to disregarding the safety of customers – Walmart has proven itself to be nothing more than a corporate machine eating away at the fabric of what made this country prideful. It comes down to profits above all else. And everything in my consciousness tells me that is dreadfully wrong.
So, Walmart choosing to build a store on one of the most dangerous intersections in our state does not surprise me. It is dangerous because it is one of the busiest. And even if the store causes a few extra accidents, even if they cause job loss to those around them, even if they hire those with no other choices at indecent wages – it doesn’t matter because it is all about the almighty dollar. If that is capitalism, I say, ‘no thank you’.
I would really like to encourage everyone to watch a 90 minute documentary called Walmart: The High Cost of Low Prices. You can watch it free HERE.