On Sunday, November 3, the Los Angeles Times ran a 429-word story, “Wal-Mart kicks off Christmas way early, helping to kill Black Friday,” on the retail giant’s plan to entice customers to do their Christmas shopping early by marking down prices weeks before the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving bargains. Providing Walmart with tens of thousands of dollars of free advertising, the story reported that “Deals include 36 percent savings on a JVC 42-inch LED television and 51 percent savings on a 10-inch Xelio tablet — at $299 for the TV and $49 for the tablet, those are the lowest tags Wal-Mart has ever put on those products.” Surely this is the kind of “news” that a Walmart PR executive drools over.
In contrast, the Times’ coverage of last Thursday’s anti-Walmart protest — one of the largest local civil disobedience actions in the company’s history — garnered a puny 163-word story,
Apparently Walmart, the country’s largest — and, some say, stingiest — private employer thought its troubles at the new Chinatown grocery center were over once it opened for business in September. That, however, was corporate wishful thinking in serious need of a cleanup in aisle three. Today, November 7, the community coalition that opposed Walmart’s original entry into the historic neighborhood will be demonstrating against the mega-chain’s continued abuse of its low-paid employees. The event will culminate with the arrest of 100 men and women in front of the store.
Their immediate goal is to draw attention to Walmart’s strategy of maximizing profits by scheduling its workers for the minimum number of hours possible and by encouraging them to apply for food stamps and other tax-funded programs to supplement their meager paychecks. (Not to mention firing dissident workers.) But organizers also hope to build momentum for nationwide protests against Walmart scheduled to take place in three weeks.
Today Walmart opened its newest supermarket, a 33,000-square-foot “grocery store” on the Chinatown corner of Cesar Chavez and Grand avenues. It’s a stone’s throw from Our Lady of the Angels’ stained-glass windows and within shouting distance of dozens of small local businesses now threatened with extinction. Local community groups had fought Walmart’s arrival as a corporate intrusion into the historic neighborhood – the store represents the retail giant’s deepest penetration into urban Los Angeles yet.
For now the new store’s critics and business competitors await the worst.
“It’s just sad for a small economy like Chinatown’s to have a large national chain whose money is going out of state and not staying in the community,” says Steven Y. Wong, interim executive director of Los Angeles’ Chinese American Museum. Wong, who says that his comments are his private opinions and not those of the museum, adds that the store “drastically changes the character of the neighborhood and will have a long-term,
September’s shaping up to be another tough month for Martha Sellers. The Walmart cashier cleared $732 on her last twice-monthly paycheck but hasn’t paid this month’s $700 rent on her place in Bellflower. When she does, she’ll have to decide how much of the remaining $32 will be divided between food and gas to get her to the job she’s held for the past 10 years.
“I am just always broke, always late on things,” Sellers says. “Thank goodness I have a nice landlord who understands.”
Sellers’ employer, however, is not so understanding. Sellers makes $13 an hour, which on paper doesn’t look too bad when compared to many other Walmart workers’ salaries, which tend to run less than $9 an hour. The problem is that the retail giant is continually cutting her hours, so that the $13 doesn’t tell the whole story.
“When I first started I worked 35,
My friend Allison is a United Methodist minister. Her husband, Andy, pastors a United Church of Christ congregation. Both serve churches in Pasadena. Both of them have been involved in advocacy for the workers at Walmart.
Allison’s father, Alan, is also a United Methodist minister and an old friend of mine who lives in Honolulu, where he took the lead to start a faith-based advocacy organization that has made a strong impact on the city. So Alan has earned some progressive credibility. Andy told me that the last time he visited his in-laws in Honolulu, Alan and he were on their way back home from a golfing excursion, when Alan announced he was going “to pick up a few things at Walmart.”
Andy was aghast and said, “You shop at Walmart?”
“Well, of course I do,” said Alan, “And don’t tell me that Allison doesn’t!”
“No, she never shops there!”
“Really?” said Alan.