Thank you for the opportunity to be with you today for this important Town Hall meeting. Hopefully we will be loud enough to WAKE UP WAL-MART! I want to thank the United Food and Commercial Workers, and everyone involved with the Wakeup Wal-Mart Campaign and the Change Wal-Mart, Change America tour. It is not easy to get the word out when your opponent has billions of dollars to spend on positive spin. And it's not easy when the workers we are trying to help have their job security on the line.
But we all know the truth about Wal-Mart and its anti-worker policies. And, as everyone here knows (and as we just heard), Chicago is today ground zero in the battle for reasonable wages and rights for Wal-Mart workers. So I am glad we are all here together today to discuss this important issue.
As you know, the City Council passed on July 26 the big-box ordinance, a commonsense measure, authored by my friend and hero, Joe Moore, to ensure that mega-stores, big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, pay employees fair wages.
The big-box measure applies to stores of at least 90,000 square feet operated by companies with $1 billion or more a year in sales. It would require employees to be paid a minimum of $10 an hour and $3 in fringe benefits by 2010.
I don't know about all of you, but asking a company that posts profits like Wal-Mart does, with billions a year, to share some of the wealth with its employees...well, wealth is going too far, but you get the picture, is not asking too much.
[I think some corporations forget that wealth comes with responsibility - the responsibility to be a good corporate citizen, to improve the lives of your workers and their families, and to help make America better - is that really too much to ask]
These are hard working people, struggling to make ends meet and they are the ones who make Wal-Mart the profitable giant it is. Without them, the shelves aren't stocked, the check out lanes are backed up, and not a single item goes out the door.
In some cases workers have tried to organize, to pool their numbers to work for change together at individual stores. Wal-Mart's response has been to bust those efforts. In some cases, the company has opted to close or threaten to close stores rather than recognize employees' right to organize.
So it was absolutely critical for the UFCW [and the wakeupwalmart campaign] to step in and help.
Just yesterday we heard news that Wal-Mart has given approval for employees of its stores in China to unionize. That is a blatant double standard and just plain wrong.
[Sadly, Wal-Mart will recognize the rights of workers in China, but not the rights of workers in America - what does that say about the values of Wal-Mart?]
Wal-Mart must stop its anti-worker, anti-child, anti-women, and anti-taxpayer policies. [Wal-Mart can be a responsible employer, they can change for the better, they can pay a living wage - and the truth is if they don't - then the American people - here in this room, and all across America - will send them a message that its time to change.]
Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the world - with nearly 1.4 million employees. It is number two on the Fortune 100 list - with $11.2 billion in profits - just behind Exxon.
But it is also at the top of the list of companies that exploit their workers - particularly female workers -- and violate child labor law. Wal-Mart workers clock in and out but are frequently required to work off-the-clock overtime - precious time away from their families that is off-the-books and unpaid.
Wal-Mart pays poverty-level wages. Because their wages are so low, Wal-Mart workers qualify for up to $2.5 billion in state and federal assistance for Medicaid, housing, school meals and other programs.
Of course, not all Wal-Mart employees are suffering. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott - whose annual compensation is 871 times that of the average employee -- will make more in 2 weeks than an entry-level worker at Wal-Mart will earn in a lifetime.
One of my biggest concerns is how Wal-Mart fails to meet the health care needs of its employees and their families.
Wal-Mart workers are less likely to have health coverage than workers at other large companies. Full-time workers have to wait 6 months to qualify for insurance. And part time Wal-Mart workers have to wait 1 year for health coverage. High premiums and cost-sharing requirements put health insurance out of reach for many Wal-Mart workers, leaving over 700 thousand of their workers and families without company health care - that 54 percent of their workforce who are uninsured.
By refusing to provide affordable health benefits, Wal-Mart shifts health care costs to public programs, straining local, state and federal budgets and taking away needed resources, even harder at a time when President Bush and Congressional Republicans are pushing more tax cuts for millionaires instead of a real, honest minimum wage increase for working Americans.
I'm sure you have heard about the memorandum to the Wal-Mart board of directors from Susan Chambers. "We also have a significant number of Associates and their children who receive health insurance through public assistance programs." According to her report, 46 percent of the children of Wal-Mart's employees are either on Medicaid or are uninsured.
Unfortunately, the recommendations were not to do the right thing for workers and taxpayers by having Wal-Mart starting paying its fair share. The recommendations were to cut costs by offering barebones policies, shifting more costs to employees, and hiring young and healthy workers who could be cheaper to cover than older workers, workers with disabilities, and women of child-bearing age.
We cannot let Wal-Mart profit at the expense of workers and children, communities and the many small and medium-sized companies who are provide good wages and benefits but are being driven out of business by Wal-Mart's predatory practices. Wal-Mart flunks every test in how it treats its workers. It is time that that this mega-corporation learns that it can and must do better.
And the Change Wal-Mart, Change America Tour will help. If we are successful in changing Wal-Mart we will set a whole new mold for employee rights and employee wages in America.
And if we are successful in Chicago and the big-box ordinance survives, and I think it will, we will send a message to Wal-Mart and all the big-box billionaire chains out there: If you want to play ball in Chicago, you've got to play ball with your employees. And if you want to play ball in this country, in this economy, you had better be serious about fair wages and workers' rights.
That means better wages and better benefits across America. If we win those rights here in Chicago, if we call their bluff here, I am confident we will still get the jobs offered by these stores. They will not be able to ignore the potential offered by the Chicago consumer market. Only they will be better jobs, with better wages and, soon, they will be forced to treat workers elsewhere better too. That, of course, is what they fear. But that is why we must do all we can to support organizers here in Chicago and to continue elevating the voices of workers and their communities everywhere.
We've heard recently about a wage announcement by Wal-Mart. They did a good job spinning it and, obviously, our message is getting through or they would not have made this move. Well, beyond the spin, here is some realistic analysis of the recent announcement:
Over two thirds of Wal-Mart's stores will be unaffected, and current employees will NOT receive a raise.
And, at the same time, Wal-Mart announced salary caps at all of its stores.
Wal-Mart refuses to release which stores or which cities will receive the raise.
Wal-Mart executive John Smiley admitted to the press that these "wage raises" will not increase the company's labor costs.
At the in-store meetings, associates weren't even told about the wage increases, only the salary caps
Wal-Mart refuses to announce - even to its workers - what its caps are for each position.
Wal-Mart will not provide workers any written information about these and other wage and bonus changes.
That so-called increase would mean that the average new full-time Wal-Mart employee would see $1.31 more a day and the average part-time would see her or his take home pay rise by $0.85 a day. That's about the price of a bottle of Coke for the full-time worker and a can of tuna for the full-time worker.
Essentially, Wal-Mart is forcing $15/hour employees to get out and leave and is replacing these employees with $6.65/hour employees.
And if you transfer to another Wal-Mart store, and the starting wage at that store is lower, workers actually get a pay cut for doing the same job.
This kind of disingenuous spin and willful undermining of workers is standard at Wal-Mart. Their practice is to reduce their own costs -- at any cost -- and they are taking every opportunity. Wal-Mart wants its jobs to be dead ends and to push out older employees. Wal-Mart wants to cut the number of full-time employees. Wal-Mart associates believe these changes are cruel and wrong, and you know what? They are right!
Our nation's largest employer doesn't offer careers. It offers gimmicks and excuses. Wal-Mart doesn't offer fair wages or a fair shot at making it. It uses employees to make executives rich and then forces them out when they ask for a stake in the company's success, or something closer to a living wage or some health care coverage.
Wal-Mart's practices are un-American and they are taking our country and our economy in the wrong direction.
We need to move Wal-Mart and all the big-box stores in a new direction. One that treats employees like people, with respect and fair compensation for a hard day's work.
We need to Wake Up Wal-Mart and all of corporate America!
I pledge to continue working in the Congress and in our community with all of you until we achieve our shared goal.
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