Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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Why Raises For Walmart Workers Are Good For Everyone

Chances are you missed this particular bargain on Black Friday: Agree to spend 15 cents more on every shopping trip, and Walmart, Target, and other large retailers will agree to pay their workers at least $25,000 a year.

Big box retailers aren't actually offering that deal, but a new study by the liberal think tank Demos argues that it would be a great bargain for us all if they did. Increasing the average wage at large retailers from $21,000 to $25,000 would probably cost you less than $20 a year at the register yet lift some 1.5 million people out of poverty (including your cashier), create 100,000 new jobs, and boost GDP by some $13.5 billion. 

Demos argues that retailers would benefit, despite higher labor costs, because their low-wage employees could suddenly afford to buy more of the basic necessities that they scan and load into plastic bags every day.

If you are still wondering what's in it for you, however, then consider this tidbit from Sasha Abramsky:

In 2004, a year in which Walmart reported $9.1 billion in profits, the retailer's California employees collected $86 million in public assistance, according to researchers at the University of California-Berkeley. Other studies have revealed widespread use of publicly funded health care by Walmart employees in numerous states. In 2004, Democratic staffers of the House education and workforce committee calculated that each 200-employee Walmart store costs taxpayers an average of more than $400,000 a year, based on entitlements ranging from energy-assistance grants to Medicaid to food stamps to WIC—the federal program that provides food to low-income women with children.

Seen through this lens, the worker protests that erupted after Thanksgiving at Walmart locations around the country might end up being the best Black Friday specials of them all. Think of them as 2-for-1 coupons: Spend more on wages now, improve the economy AND save us all lots of tax money down the roadmoney that we can spend instead on more important things, like, well, parachutes for our cats.

Ira Rennert owns the nation's largest inhabited residence.

A Peruvian judge has threatened to extradite bad-boy industrialist and private-equity bigwig Ira Rennert, according to a recent story in Peru's La Republica. Since January, the American billionaire has repeatedly refused to travel to Peru to respond to charges of defrauding the Peruvian government in connection with his management of Doe Run Peru, a lead smelter in the Andes that has poisoned a surrounding town.

According to La Republica, Rennert has claimed that he is "too occupied with his business" to address the charges in person. He asked Peruvian judge Martha Flores Gallardo to travel to New York instead.

People who work in America's big-box stores don't have much to be thankful for, so maybe it's for the best that many of them can no longer celebrate Thanksgiving.

At Walmart, Target, and numerous other large retailers, Black Friday has become Black Thursday—a day that's much darker because it puts corporate profits ahead of, well, pretty much everything else that our country is supposed to care about.

This sad trend began last year at (where else?) Walmart, which announced that it would begin offering Black Friday specials at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. Not to be outdone this year, Target announced a 9 p.m. Thanksgiving opening. But Walmart responded by pushing up the start of this year's Black Thursday to 8 p.m.

You don't have to be a marketing expert to see where our labor standards are going: retro. Like pre-1621 retro.

Thanksgiving is "one of the three days us retail workers get off a year: a day most of us spend with family we only get to see on that day," says Renee C, the author of a widely circulated petition to get Target to say no to "Thanksgiving Creep."

Target spokesperson Molly Snyder defended the company's decision to open on the holiday. "Target's opening time was carefully evaluated with our guests, team, and the business in mind," she told me in an email. "Thanksgiving weekend is one of the busiest of the year, and we appreciete our Target team's flexibility on this weekend and throughout the holiday season."

Of course, many big-box workers have no choice to but to be flexible. The compliant get rewarded with more hours; the rigid quickly get downgraded to part-timers, union leaders say. Take the example of Greg Fletcher, a member of the overnight crew at a Walmart in East LA. On the night before Thanksgiving he will work a 12-hour shift, from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. His wife, who also works at the store, must be there from 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving day until midnight. "For families like the Fletchers, there really won't be a Thanksgiving this year," said Dawn Le, a spokeswoman for Making Change at Walmart, a campaign working to unionize this and other Walmart stores. Yet Greg feels like he can't say no. Normally, Walmart only gives him about 30 hours of work a week.

The thankless jobs aren't just at Target and Walmart: Sears, Toys R Us, Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, and Kmart all will stay open on Thanksgiving too.

Broadly speaking, Thanksgiving Creep represents another example of "speedup"—or employers demanding more from their workers without offering them much of anything in return. In a sluggish economy, this is how they gin up profits.

"Just because there are millions of unemployed people does not mean that people who do have jobs should be denied a holiday off to spend with their families," said a poster on Reddit who drew attention to Thanksgiving Creep yesterday. "It may sound naive, but I think treating each other well is a much better ethos for our society than 'suck it up and be miserable.'"

From the Seattle Times:

King and Pierce County prosecutors are dismissing more than 220 misdemeanor marijuana cases in response to Tuesday's vote to decriminalize small amounts of pot.

In King County, 175 cases are being dismissed involving people 21 and older and possession of one ounce or less. I-502 makes one ounce of marijuana legal on Dec. 6, but King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg decided to apply I-502 retroactively.

"Although the effective date of I-502 is not until December 6, there is no point in continuing to seek criminal penalties for conduct that will be legal next month," Satterberg said in a statement.

Keep in mind that these are just 2 of the state's 40 counties, and the decisions only apply to cases currently winding their way through the court system. Over the past 25 years, according to a recent study, Washington has convicted more than 241,000 people of misdemeanor pot posession, at a cost of $300 million in police and court time. That money will now go towards regulating the sale of legal weed, which, by the way, is expected to bring the state some $2 billion in tax revenues over the next five years.

This is the partial abolition of the war on drugs. Any questions?

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