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Black Friday at Walmart: Faces and voices from the shopping wars

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

The nouveau American holy day Black Friday was in full swing at the Midway Walmart store in St. Paul when a march of about 500 workers and union activists briefly descended on the big box and moved down University Avenue. Inside Walmart, a steady stream of families consumed electronics, entertainment, clothes, and food (by noon Friday, Walmart customers worldwide had purchased 2.8 million towels, 2 million televisions, and 1.4 million computer tablets), while outside, protesters raised their voices on behalf of the greed- and consumerism-weary proletariat in general and Walmart workers all over the country in a show of solidarity with minimum-wage advocates

In the end, 26 protesters were arrested by the St. Paul Police for civil disobedience (i.e. sitting down in the middle of University and Snelling Avenues and locking arms), while Walmart reported record sales.

A few faces and voices from the minimum-wage/living-wage wars:

TimMinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Tim Moore, Brainerd: “I came to show my support for the people who are making less than a livable wage. I am tired of subsidizing companies like Walmart and Target through my tax dollars, because they don’t pay people well enough to put food on the table and they qualify for all sorts of assistance from the state because their wages are so low.”

MisraMinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Misra Hussien, Walmart associate: “I’ve been working here three years. I’m not comfortable talking about how much I make (but) it’s not bad. I have the right to protest for myself; I don’t want nobody to protest for me. I can do for myself instead of somebody doing for me.”

O'BriensMinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Colleen (left) and Anita O’Brien, Rhinelander, Wis. “I’m here to protest corporate greed, I’m here to stand with workers, and I’m here to help to ensure that we can preserve the middle class,” said Colleen.

BikilaMinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Bikila Shuna, Walmart assistant manager: “I’ve been working here five years, and I love working here. I have to say, Black Friday is my favorite. All the fast-paced environment, all the running up and down, I love it here. I love the fact that I get to help people. Our slogan is ‘Save Money So You Can Live Better,’ and I actually see that in reality. Not only in people’s lives, but in my life, in my family’s life. We do save money here, so we can live better.

“I’m engaged. My family, my mom and dad and two brothers and sisters who live in Chaska, can’t afford to shop anywhere else, because they don’t have so much money, so they shop here so they can afford to send us to school and buy clothing. And now I’m grown, and I work here, and I make that difference in other people’s lives, and I’m happy for that.

“I believe (Walmart) offers competitive wages compared to other retailers. I started as a cashier here. What puts me here and why I stay here is because I can move up. What keeps me here is not what I’m making, but [what] I will be making in a few years. As long as I have that motivation, I know this company will help me move forward.”

FelishaMinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Felisha Lindquist, Our Walmart:

 “Our Walmart is a group of former and current associates who want to stand up and live better. I used to work at Walmart, and there is widespread bullying and disrespect from the managers. Walmart employees don’t make enough to live on their own. There are associates who live with their parents who are 26, 27 years old who can’t afford their own apartment and can’t afford to go to school. Single moms can’t raise their kids.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh 

Tori Hong, Lakeville: “I’m here to support the workers who get paid [low] wages while the people above them are raking in millions of dollars by keeping their stores open every day of the year. The minimum wage in this state is $7.25 an hour, and that’s not enough to support a family. You need three or four of those jobs just to make a living wage.”

PhilMinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Phil Rumsey, Walmart market asset protection manager: “I’ve been with Walmart for almost 13 years. I think that [the protesters outside] is business as usual, and the day after Thanksgiving we’ve got a lot of customers coming into our store looking for great prices and product for the holidays and at this time we’re just doing what we can to serve our customers saving money so they can live better. I have no opinion on [the living-wage issue], I’m here to serve our customers today.”

AndyMinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Andy Galloway, New Brighton: “I’m a Teamster. [Walmart employees] can’t talk freely in that store; Walmart’s got a policy of flying in this hit team from wherever they come from and firing the general manager and clearing the store out if there’s any talk of organization. I think these guys need to figure out how to stand together and build solidarity. Then instead of begging for what they need, they can collectively bargain for what they need.”

Sally and MichaelMinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Sally Downing, Minneapolis, and Michael McDowell, Minneapolis: “Walmart is one of the largest employers in the world, certainly in this country, and they’ve been taking advantage of their employees for years and years and they’ve fired people for trying to start unions and I just hate all this injustice,” said Sally.

“I hear stories from Walmart about people who’ve been there for eight years and their wage is still at minimum wage, and people can’t work their way up the ladder,” said Michael. “That’s not fair. Their wages need to match how long they’ve been with the corporation.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh 

Anne Hamre, Roseville: “There’s a Walmart going in not far from me in Roseville, and that’s the last thing we need there, or anywhere, because they drive out the locally-owned businesses, they drive down wages, they drive up public safety costs because they don’t hire enough security guards, and it’s a downward spiral. We need to get back to locally-owned independent businesses who treat their employees with respect.”

ShanikaMinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Shanika Summers, Walmart customer associate: “Walmart treats their employees good, I think. We have good pay, we have good hours. I’ve been here almost eight months now. I’m making almost ten dollars an hour, and considering my living situation now I’m getting by pretty well right now. I don’t live beyond my means, so I’m doing pretty well and my pay is pretty good. [The protesters] make me sad, because what they’re saying isn’t true.”

MaryMinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Mary DePry, Roseville: “Walmart made $15 billion last year, and it costs our government $2 billion to subsidize their employees with food stamps and health care, and I’m a taxpayer, and I object.”

St. Paul police
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh 

St. Paul police shut down the protest, arresting 26 on civil disobedience charges.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Tim Milner on 12/02/2013 - 10:29 am.

    Thanks Jim

    for finding people and quotes that provide some balance on this minimum wage issue. It is a complex issue – one that is not easily solved by the normal sound bites coming from the raise the wage crowd.

    I firmly believe it is the government’s role, not a business’s role, to address the redistribution of income to correct inequities. Business should be able to set their wages rates based on factors such as productivity, skill level required, and market conditions. Factors that the business either internally controls or externally responds to.

    That said, I personally can agree that there is some wage floor government can and should be able to set. But this should be focused on the entry level jobs to get people into the job market – not as the wage rate for middle class sustainablity.

    For if the government sets a higher minimum wage than what businesses determine is their entry wage, business will respond in a few basic ways:

    1 – it will pay higher wages and pass the higher costs on to consumers by raising prices,

    2 – it will pay higher wages and recalculate the cost/benefit of investing in automation to reduce the overall need for labor to keep total labor costs constant.

    3 – it will simply absorb the cost and corresponding reduction in profit. (which, by the way, will reduce the government’s income tax receipts since labor is a deductible expense)

    So often, I see the minimum wage crowd focused on factor # 3 above as being the likely, maybe only, result of a minimum wage hike, when the other 2 factors are as, if not more likely, to happen first.

    Take the quote above regarding Walmart’s profit of $15B. Is the solution really to raise the minimum wage on all businesses? Or is the better solution to eliminate the tax breaks Walmart receives that reduces their contribution to government funding (Walmart gets many tax breaks)? Or maybe the tax rates are not progressive enough for Walmart’s income?

    As I said, a complex issue. Thanks for being willing to share stories on many perspectives.

    • Submitted by Ed Day on 12/02/2013 - 11:08 pm.

      The rational business response

      With an eye on entry-level jobs, I don’t view any of the basic ways businesses respond to an increased minimum wage as a negative.

      1. Higher wages lead to higher prices – so what? With the volume at big-box stores, the price hike would be negligible. At fast-food joints, it’d be about 10 cents more per burger. This is already happening in well-to-do areas where families are headed by two professionals and McDonald’s has to go well above minimum to pry teens away from extracurricular activities and college prep studies. No one cares about the paltry price hike.

      Also, the individual franchise operator apparently has the discretion regarding staffing, and can strategically hire someone for $9 per hour for a three-hour dinner rush for less than a 4-hour shift at the current minimum wage.

      Since by definition experience should not be a factor in entry-level jobs and a worker’s skill level is whatever training they receive on the job, market conditions are the primary factor in determining wages in a free market. In urban areas there is often a surplus of labor, and in rural areas there is often a shortage of employers. This is why you typically see more adults working the stereotypical entry-level food service and retail jobs in these economies. And these would be the places most affected by an increase in the minimum wage. (Various reports note that 60 to 70 percent of minimum-wage earners are teens, meaning the 30 to 40 percent that are adults, who tend to be more concentrated in depressed areas).

      2. Automation. Most of these places are already automated and run efficiently. Scanners, deep-fryers, etc., have all helped, but humans are necessary. I’ll be pretty impressed when Chipotle builds a robot that can make my ridiculously customized burrito faster and more cheaply than the current staff.

      Social services is another pretty low-wage industry that has typically paid about 25 cent more than the prevailing minimum wage. I don’t think a lot of people would be comfortable automating my old job, which included giving clients medications, assisting with baths, going on field trips, and breaking up fights.

      3. No one expects businesses to simply absorb the cost of the increased minimum wage, but again – who cares? Also, with higher wages, governments will collect more revenue in the form of payroll taxes as well as sales tax revenue, as low-wage earners are more apt to put the money back into the local economy than an international corporation.

      A lot of Walmart’s tax breaks (and big box in general) are predicated on jumpstarting a local economy and being part of a TIF project. Developers like big box because the large stores pay off the project quickly, allowing them to move on. Cities going through tough times or responding to an abrupt cut in local government aid and desperate for revenue get a quick fix, which is partially why such projects get okayed despite community opposition.

  2. Submitted by Joe Musich on 12/02/2013 - 12:09 pm.

    Complex ?

    Really ? Wealth is redistributed or it’s not ! Redistribute now. What we have now at walmart and other places is economic bondage, servitude if you an imagine that. Where is the civil freedom ? Every market should be a workers market to pick and choose the job where a person thinks they can flourish. If they workers are happy what do you think will happen to production ? Sure, some of the interviewed workers spoke about appreciating their employment situation but as was stated they are held on a short leash. And tax breaks for some of the richest people in the USA ? Get serious. Fifteen bucks now.

  3. Submitted by Tim Milner on 12/02/2013 - 01:22 pm.

    Economic bondage?

    Seriously? I had no idea that Walmart was so powerful as to eliminate one’s ability to choose where to work.

    People have choices. The first being to work at gaining more skills to qualify for higher paying jobs. Community Education, Votech Schools, the State of MN Jobs Training – there are countless programs available to help people gain the necessary skills. At no, or very low. costs.

    But it takes some initiative and it takes some sacrifice. But it is doable. For most.

    Yes, there are some who for a variety of reasons can’t. And in my opinion, these people need to have government assistance from a general tax revenue stream to help them make end meets.

    But let’s not reduce the incentive for people to achieve a higher standard of living by improving themselves. There are jobs waiting for them.

  4. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/02/2013 - 03:54 pm.

    Minor correction

    Jim, this was an interesting piece. Thank you for putting it out there for us.

    Just a nit-picking detail: There is no such crime as “civil disobedience.” I’m guessing the charges were most likely disorderly conduct, or something of that ilk.

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