I had the unfortunate pleasure of being alone in a room with a good friend when a Barack Obama commemorative coin commercial came on. First let me say that his parents and he are pro-union, hard working Irish-Catholics from New York. They’re good people. It’s no wonder he and I disagreed so virulently in the ensuing argument sparked by the coin commercial.
Our discussion of “who did you vote for?” led eventually to Wal-Mart (don’t ask me how). My friend didn’t support Wal-Mart’s supposedly unethical business practices of unfair treatment and payment of its employees and their cut throat style of business in which they callously outsell “mom and pop” stores in their local areas causing them to go out of business. My response, I believe, was an intelligent argument backed up by facts and reason. It was met with scorn, screaming, anger, yelling and even half-backed conspiracy theories.
The first allegation against Wal-Mart is they do not pay their employees a living wage, or a decent wage in which they are able to afford to live their lives. According to the United Food and Commercial Workers
(UFCW) a union of super market employees and other commercial chain stores, two thirds of Wal-Mart’s 2,100,000 workers make between $7.92 (cashiers) and $8.23 (sales associates) per hour. Currently, the federal minimum wage will be $7.25 per hour (it will take effect on July 24th, 2009). The UFCW and other anti-Wal-Mart groups argue this wage rate is unacceptable because it amounts to yearly salaries between $11,948 and $13,861 which are below federal poverty levels. These are part time salaries. The average full time yearly salary is $17,114.24, again below the federal poverty level. First, just by looking at the numbers we see Wal-Mart is in compliance with the law. Nothing they are doing is illegal in the sense of wage laws yet the UFCW claims what Wal-Mart is doing is wrong because they have the ability to raise their prices by pennies in order to cover the costs of raising the wage of their employees to a level they believe is acceptable. Excuse me? Who the hell are they to tell Wal-Mart’s owners what they should pay their employees, how they should run their business. The wage of a worker is set by the MARKET not union leaders. Not to slander cashiers and Wal-Mart sales associates or those wonderful greeters but their jobs are not very skill specific. Potentially anyone can full fill those jobs and that is why they get paid less than a doctor or lawyer. And the UFCW has a vestige interest in winning their own private war to unionize the hundreds of thousands of Wal-Mart workers. Union dues from those hundreds of thousands if not millions of people would generate a lot of revenue to one Union. A union is just another entity with its own special interests and its own employees, the union representatives and their lobbying apparatus. Wal-Mart’s entire business plan revolves around low prices and selling many items in bulk. They keep their costs as low as possible which means paying little for their labor. It is the owners’ prerogative of how much they will pay for their labor not a group of union representatives who pretend they have the worker’s interests at heart. Furthermore, the Wal-Mart employees are voluntarily entering into a worker-employee relationship, no one forces them to work at Wal-Mart. The UFCW only wants the millions of dollars in union dues they could generate along with the political and social control afforded over the millions of workers and America’s largest employer.
The second allegation goes along with Wal-Mart’s alleged maltreatment of their workers. Anti-Wal-Mart advocates have argued Wal-Mart employees have no control over their working hours or their schedule. That’s a shame. What if I wanted to set my own hours at every job I had? Every single employer sets the hours of their employees to an extent; it is when they are required to work for the business. What if lifeguards only wanted to work at night? Does it make it unfair if the country club or beach club told them they had to work during the day? Why is it okay for other business to dictate when employees should come to work and not Wal-Mart?
The final anti-Wal-Mart argument I will address (as I could potentially go on forever) is Wal-Mart destroys small business. This fact is true. Wal-Mart does drive out small business “mom and pop” shops. Does Wal-Mart maliciously target these poor unsuspecting businesses? No. Wal-Mart only sells the same products for cheaper prices and furthermore offers the consumer the convenience of a one-stop shopping center at which they can procure everything: groceries, appliances, clothes, toys, décor and even prescriptions. It’s a consumer’s paradise. It’s also a choice the consumers are making voluntarily. If they wanted to pay higher prices to shop at the “mom and pop shops” instead of Wal-Mart, then they would…but they didn’t.
Wal-Mart hatred has been (mostly) engineered by unions and the politicians they’ve donated money to who bemoan the evil capitalistic practices of Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has done nothing wrong except do what other stores have been doing for decades – better, smarter and cheaper. Their practices are innovative and save the average American family who shops there almost $2,000 a year. The anti-Wal-Mart argument promotes unfounded and dangerous thinking which is rapidly spreading throughout our country.