René Bobadilla had just started lunch on April 13 when he got a call from Walmart’s government relations office.
“I almost choked,” he says.
Bobadilla is the city manager of Pico Rivera and the government relations rep had just informed him that the local Walmart Supercenter was shutting down within hours and possibly for six months — due to a plumbing issue.
That meant 530 workers cut at Pico Rivera’s second-largest employer and a severe budget hit to the San Gabriel Valley city of 63,000. Sales tax from the Supercenter accounts for some 10 percent of city revenues — an estimated $1.4 million a year.
The nature of the problem is a mystery.
“They haven’t told us specifically — is it their main, do they have water coming out of their drain? I don’t know,” Bobadilla says.
The Pico Rivera store is one of five Walmart stores around the country suddenly closed due to vaguely defined plumbing problems.
November, 2013 was not a good month to be a Walmart corporate executive.
The headaches for the nation’s largest employer of low-wage workers began November 18, when the National Labor Relations Board found that Walmart illegally threatened, disciplined and fired employees over last year’s Black Friday strikes and protests. The finding was the first step in an NLRB complaint asserting that the retail giant violated workers’ rights.
The Black Friday protests have been a driving force behind the core demand by Walmart employees that the company raise the annual earnings for sales associates above the federal poverty line.
That NLRB bombshell soon snowballed into a public relations disaster when, on the same day, news broke that a Canton, Ohio Walmart store had instituted a Thanksgiving food drive on behalf of store employees unable to afford a holiday meal. The Canton story was subsequently credited with reigniting the congressional fight for the first increase in the national $7.25-per-hour minimum wage since 2007.
On December 5, as part of its 20th anniversary celebration, the L.A. Alliance for a New Economy will honor OUR Walmart, an organization determined to transform conditions at the world’s largest retailer. Frying Pan News recently asked Walmart employee Martha Sellers, who has worked at the company’s Paramount store for 10 years, to reflect on her role in one of the most ambitious social justice efforts of our time.
Frying Pan News: If you could sit down for a one-on-one conversation with Walmart CEO Mike Duke, what would you say?
Martha Sellers: Explain to me why you cannot afford to pay us a living wage when it is proven you make mega bucks. Why?
You spend your money on all these things but your associates. Why?
You spend money on PR and opening more stores when the stores that are already open are not doing well.