Co-published by Fast Company
Mass layoffs are never pleasant news. In America they are particularly disruptive, thanks to a meager safety net.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s one of those truisms that’s been echoed in various forms throughout the ages, from the likes of Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and even the Spider-man comics. Unfortunately, powerful major corporations like Walmart don’t often take responsibility for their tremendous impact on America and the rest of the world. As Walmart opens its annual shareholder meeting on June 5, we at the Food Chain Workers Alliance urge stockholders and executives alike to consider our newly-released report, Walmart at the Crossroads, which examines the impact of Walmart’s food supply chain on labor and the environment.
Walmart, number one on the Fortune 500 list of American companies, has net sales totaling $473.1 billion. With foodstuffs making up 55 percent of its sales, this corporation controls 25 percent of grocery sales in the U.S. Consequently, Walmart’s actions and inactions reverberate through the food chain,
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.
She was the perfect patriotic icon: Sassy yet dignified, brawny yet feminine – a massive rivet gun cradled on her lap, feet resting on a copy of Mein Kampf. And all the while she holds a sandwich as Old Glory ripples in the background. Mary Doyle Keefe, a Vermont telephone operator who posed for Norman Rockwell’s immortal Rosie the Riveter painting, first publicly seen on a 1943 Saturday Evening Post cover, died Tuesday at the age of 92. At the time of her brush with fame, Keefe was Rockwell’s neighbor and a little embarrassed that the artist had pumped iron into the painted arms of the petite 19-year-old.
Rosie the Riveter had too much whimsy and restraint for it to fade into kitsch or agitprop oblivion. Like J. Howard Miller’s equally famous “We Can Do It!” poster, with which it is sometimes confused,
Black Friday saw a wave of protests at an estimated 1,600 Walmart stores across the nation. But for a small group of Walmart workers, the protest had begun a day earlier, on Thanksgiving. On a day when most of the country was at home enjoying a good meal, the workers gathered outside the Walmart Supercenter in downtown Long Beach to begin a 24-hour hunger strike.
The workers were going without food to protest the low wages and part-time work schedules that leave so many Walmart employees unable to afford enough food for themselves and their families. The low wages paid to the bulk of the one million hourly workers employed by Walmart means that many rely on public assistance such as food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing in order to make ends meet. The price tag for this assistance is an estimated $6.2 billion per year in taxpayer dollars.