In an on-going effort, UFCW Locals 328, 371, 919, 1445, and 1458, Region 1 and the Rhode Island chapter of Jobs with Justice are cooperating in an multi-state outreach effort to non-union retail workers in their area. For two weeks now, stewards, board members, local staff, and community allies have been talking to workers about the difference being a part of a union makes in their lives. As a starting point, the group is handing out flyers addressing the recent pay raises thousands of UFCW members at Stop & Shop received as part of their new contract.
Activists had hundreds of conversations with workers at more than 50 stores across New England, including well-known non-union chains like PriceRite and Hannaford Brothers.
Shane Allen of UFCW Local 919 hands out flyers at Hannaford Bros. in Brookfield, Mass.
“Walmart takes in about 18 percent of U.S. food stamp dollars, a share that amounted to more than $13 billion last year.” However, with cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Walmart is seeing a huge portion of its customer base drop off, no longer able to afford to shop there. Instead, many are now relying on charities and food pantries.
“It’s this cycle that keeps going around and around,” says Jason Elchert, deputy director for the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. “We need to take a deep breath and think about how can we move our country forward.”
Instead of relying on food stamp customers, Walmart could both improve its business and help struggling workers (many of whom are those on food stamps) by paying a living wage.
There of course is the argument–”Won’t that raise the prices at Walmart, essentially defeating the purpose?”
Well, according to a new video from Slate, if Walmart paid its employees a living wage of $13.00/hr, that .68 cent box of Great Value mac n’ cheese would increase to….69 cents.
When there are 40 Walmart associates per store, on average, that are on food stamps, and are actually beneficiaries of the food donation program that Walmart has pledged to “donate $2 billion in cash and food to fight hunger”, something is clearly wrong. Instead of cashing in on of the food stamp economy, or having employees scour the shelves for just-past sell-by dates to collect for those who can’t afford food, Walmart should and can afford to invest in its own business and in restoring the the middle class by paying a living wage. This would also save taxpayers–whose money funds government programs like food stamps–$300 million a year.
President Obama ordered the Department of Labor to expand federal rules so that more salaried workers would be able to qualify for overtime pay. Currently, any salaried employee making more than $455 per week is not required to be given overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week.
The current $455 per week salary threshold has failed to keep pace with inflation. It was $250 in 1975, equivalent to roughly $1,000 today. This expansion will give millions more workers across the nation the chance to earn extra pay when they do extra work.
UFCW Local 400 member Rob Trotter (standing in back with blue shirt and glasses) stands by as President Obama orders an expansion so more salaried workers qualify for overtime pay.
UFCW Local 400 member Rob Trotter, a meat cutter at Giant in Annandale, Virginia, stood next to President Obama as he signed the memorandum.
“I have worked in retail for over 20years for an hourly wage,” he said. “I have depended upon overtime to pay school tuition for my children, or to get out from under a financial hardship. The opportunity to earn overtime has always been helpful and comforting to me.”
It is not yet clear by how much the salary threshold will increase. The President’s order instructs the Department of Labor to come up with an expansion plan following a period of input and study. With the stagnation of wages and the increase in corporate profits, actions like this give workers a better chance to provide for their families.
“There have been years when 20 percent of my income was comprised of overtime,” Trotter said. “Going above and beyond expectations at work takes a toll physically because you’re working harder and emotionally because you’re away from your family for a longer period of time. Every employer should fairly recognize and reward this sacrifice.”