For the second Black Friday in a row, workers and labor advocates have singled out Walmart as a target of protests, calling for higher wages and more predictable hours, and pointing to what they say are the hidden costs behind the retailer’s famously low prices.
About 75 demonstrators gathered in front of Walmart’s South Philadelphia store Friday morning, one of about 2,000 similar protests nationwide that took place under the umbrella of the labor-backed group, OUR Walmart.
Matthew Clark, an independent filmmaker, helped organize the Philadelphia event. He said it’s time the company start paying workers enough to keep them from depending on taxpayers to make ends meet.
“By Walmart not paying employees enough to have health care, taxpayers end up paying between $4 billion and $6 billion a year in Medicaid and food stamps costs for Walmart employees — because they won’t pay those employees themselves,” Clark said.
Among those present was Richard Barnes, head of the local stagehands union, IATSE Local 8. The more workers earn in wages, the more they spend here in the region, he told the crowd. Likewise, the less workers get paid, the more profits Walmart can plow into lobbying legislatures for its preferred policies. To see those priorities in action, he said, one need only look at the company’s home state of Arkansas.
“It’s important that we shift the money from going down to Arkansas, to here,” Barnes said. “Just look at what’s going on in that state. They’re the worst in education, they’re the worst in workers’ rights, they’re at the bottom of every category you can measure.”
Walmart, which cut health benefits for about 30,000 workers this year, has long argued that its low wages translate into low prices for customers. And while Walmart CEO Doug McMillon recently said he’d like to raise his workers’ wages, he hasn’t said when that might happen.