Wal-Mart, Don’t Discount the Power of Teachers

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The following guest post is from Amber Rain Chandler, a teacher in western New York.

At the end of July, I was inundated with Facebook posts telling me about Wal-Mart’s Teacher Appreciation Week. How were teachers like me appreciated exactly? We could get an e-card for 10 percent back on “qualifying” purchases of supplies, basically a glorified gift card for the store.

But let’s be clear: Teachers know that Wal-Mart is not giving us or our schools anything meaningful to genuinely make a difference in the education of our kids. To the contrary, Wal-Mart’s “appreciation” for teachers has been to spend an incredible amount of money to discredit and shut out the voice of teachers, who are the ones who are the closest to students and need to be involved in the decisions about their education.

In New York state, Wal-Mart has been funneling massive amounts of money to privatize education and all but wipe out public education. In the past few years, the Walton Family Foundation has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to New York groups leading the push to “reform” schools using charter schools and vouchers. One of these groups spent more than $50,000 on the last two Buffalo school board races. How will our community in western New York move forward when research shows that what works is not privatization, but giving students in public schools a rich curriculum with well-supported, well-trained teachers, and the right mix of academic interventions, wraparound services and other needed resources. Privatization is Wal-Mart’s magic bullet. If Wal-Mart truly wants to make an impact on education, it could start with helping to overcome the unrelenting poverty in the city of Buffalo and the widening academic achievement gap, or by providing funds for enough language teachers to address the huge English-as-a-second-language (ELL) population in western New York. Educators, parents and school boards need to recognize that Wal-Mart’s “philanthropy” is in name only; instead, it is shamelessly creating generational poverty. When students come to school from homes where parents have lost their jobs, and where parents’ work does not provide a living wage, the students suffer.

Sure, with the deep school budget cuts over the past several years, I can understand why schools are so tempted to grab whatever cash they can get. Budget cuts have decimated the teaching staff, creating larger class sizes and the loss of electives. Can I attribute this directly to Wal-Mart? No, but they have influence with groups that promote privatization over fixing our neighborhood public schools. Educators do not want any part of a Wal-Mart agenda.

Wal-Mart’s ads about its appreciation for teachers are not really about helping teachers or students. Rather, it is all about a public relations scheme to appear supportive of education while luring shoppers to patronize its stores. The reality is that many of us would rather shop at a store that not only provides discounts, but also honors American values and genuinely values public school teachers.

So, I’m countering those Facebook posts and ads with messages of my own. During this back-to-school season, I’m letting my friends and followers on Twitter and Facebook know that I’m not shopping at Wal-Mart. Instead, I’m sharing the facts to show another side of Wal-Mart’s happy face.

Teachers won’t be fooled with coupons. We’re not going to put money behind a corporation that doesn’t have our students’ best interest at heart.

My message to Wal-Mart is simple: Don’t discount the power of teachers.

 

AmberAmber Rain Chandler teaches seventh-grade English Language Arts at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg, N.Y. Amber also teaches Methods in English Teaching at Medaille College and leads staff development on Differentiation for the Southtown Teachers Center.

This post originally appeared on MomsRising.org.

Walmart Workers Lead Candle-Lit March to Walmart Heir’s Estate in Lead Up to Shareholders’ Meeting

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OUR Walmart momsLast night, more than 100 Walmart workers and their community supporters gathered in Phoenix, Arizona, for a town hall meeting on the growing inequality that impacts all of us in this country.

From there, the group headed out into the evening on a candle-lit march to the home of Walmart heir and Board Chair Rob Walton. In front of the gates of this Walton estate out in the desert, workers carried flags reading “moms won’t be silenced.”

Workers held the meeting and march to call on Rob Walton to respect workers’ right to speak out without fear of retaliation or step down as board chair given his many failures in leadership. One of six Walton heirs and majority owners of Walmart, Rob has failed to address basic concerns over wages, worker treatment and corporate controls, while he has continued to enrich his family – already the wealthiest in America – at the cost of millions of workers in Walmart’s stores and throughout its supply chain.

Walmart workers have had enough and they will not stay silent. Until Rob Walton steps down or Walmart consistently enacts worker-friendly policies, OUR Walmart will be continue to speak out against retaliation.

This post originally appeared on the Walmart Watch blog.

Supreme Court opens the flood gates to even more Walton money in politics

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Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down certain limits on individuals’ federal campaign contributions, with a ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC. The Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the cap on the aggregate amount that an individual can give directly to candidates for federal office, federal political action committees, and federal party committees.

The McCutcheon decision opens the door to dramatically increased federal election spending by wealthy, politically-motivated donors like the Waltons. A report from Demos and U.S. PIRG found that without an individual limit on campaign spending, more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from a small segment of elite donors is likely to come in through the 2020 election cycle.

With some of the deepest pockets in America, members of the Walton family have brushed up against the individual aggregate limit year after year. And the Waltons’ political priorities are well-documented. Their contributions further a personal, ideological agenda that is anti-woman, anti-environment, anti-minimum wage, and pro-gun.

Individual Walton federal contributions by year

2012

2010

2008

Individual aggregate limit

$117,000

$115,500

$108,200

Jim Walton

$112,000

$114,900

$107,300

Lynne Walton

$105,800

$111,500

$107,100

Alice Walton

$78,300

$93,900

$104,900


Analysis of data from
FEC.gov and Open Secrets

Already, a small group of donors has major influence on the political process. The Sunlight Foundation reports, “More than a quarter of the nearly $6 billion in contributions from identifiable sources in the last campaign cycle came from just 31,385 individuals, a number equal to one ten-thousandth of the U.S. population…the 1% of the 1%.” In 2012, no member of the House or Senate won election without help from this group. And this small group includes some familiar names: Alice, Christy, Jim, Lynne, Rob, Tillie, and Sam R. Walton are all part of this 1% of 1%.

Federal law had set caps on the total amount individuals could contribute to all candidates as well as the total amount that individuals could give to PACs and parties. For the 2011-2012 election cycle, the caps were $46,200 to all candidates and $70,800 to all PACs and parties, which added up to an aggregate limit of $117,000, more than twice the annual income of the average American household. Without those limits, extremely wealthy donors like the Waltons will be able to spend upwards of $3.5 million every election cycle—not including super PAC contributions!—to influence the democratic process.

In 2012, over half of the contributions from Jim Walton and his wife Lynne went to two Republican committees: the National Republican Senatorial Committee ($30,800 apiece, the 2012 maximum contribution to party a committee) and the National Republican Congressional Committee ($30,400 each). Without an aggregate limit on individual contributions, the Waltons could hypothetically write many more $30,000+ checks to other national party committees in the current cycle. They’ve already gotten started: in March 2013, Jim and Lynne each wrote $30,800 checks to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. At $123,200, Jim and Lynne Walton have given more money to the Republican party this cycle than Charles and David Koch.

Walmart CEO Acknowledges Lack of Opportunities for Workers

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This article was originally posted by the Retail Justice Alliance.

Walmart-Opportunity-300x300A recent AP article by Josh Boak finds that Walmart—our country’s largest employer—does not provide its employees with enough opportunities for professional advancement or a pathway to a middle class life. As a result of the Great Recession, many older and more educated workers are turning to the retail giant as a way to support their families. And despite the retail giant’s self-promotion as a source for professional opportunity, Bill Simon, CEO of Walmart U.S., suggests that workers look elsewhere if they want to make more money and have access to better benefits.

“Some people took those jobs because they were the only ones available and haven’t been able to figure out how to move out of that,” Bill Simon, CEO of Walmart U.S., acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press.

If Walmart employees “can go to another company and another job and make more money and develop, they’ll be better,” Simon explained. “It’ll be better for the economy. It’ll be better for us as a business, to be quite honest, because they’ll continue to advance in their economic life.”

Walmart’s sheer scale in size means that its low-wage, part-time business practices have an enormous impact on our country’s labor, business, and employment climate, and the company’s profits before people business strategy has influenced other retailers to do the same. That’s why Walmart workers across the country are taking the lead in the fight to change the way the retail giant does business.

Since its inception, former and current Walmart workers who are members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) have called on the retailer to publicly commit to raising wages and increasing access to full-time hours so that no worker at Walmart makes less than $25,000 per year. OUR Walmart members have also asked the retailer to stop its practice of retaliating against workers who are simply exercising their right to speak out for a better life and improved working conditions.

Too many Walmart workers like Joanna Lopez are struggling to survive on low wages with insufficient hours and are relying on taxpayer funded programs like food stamps to make ends meet.

Simon’s suggestion that many Walmart employees might be better off leaving for other jobs surprised Wal-Mart cashier Joanna Lopez. A 26-year-old single mother, she owns no car and lives with her church pastor near Fremont, Calif. She collects food stamps and receives insurance through California’s version of Medicaid.

Lopez started at Wal-Mart as a temp in August 2011, after being unable to land a hospital job with her associate’s degree. Her pay has risen from $8 an hour to $9.20, after she moved from part time to full time. The suggestion by a Wal-Mart executive that some employees might be staying too long offended her.

“To me, that’s an utter humiliation,” Lopez said. “How can you sit there and have management say that we should find other jobs because this place is ‘no bueno?’”

As the largest retail employer in the country, Walmart can and should lead the way in making sure that retail jobs are good jobs—the kind that come with good benefits and wages for all workers. If Walmart would listen to—and respect—its workers, it could help to rebuild our country’s economy and strengthen America’s middle class.

Is Walmart “neutral” on the minimum wage in its lobbying meetings too?

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Walmart spokesperson David Tovar told Bloomberg this week that Walmart was “looking at” its position on the proposed federal minimum wage hike. A different company spokesperson quickly corrected the story, telling Reuters that Walmart’s position hadn’t changed at all and that the company remains “neutral” on the issue. Of course, two of the major business groups connected to Walmart—the National Retail Federation and the Chamber of Commerce—have voiced strong opposition to the measure, but Walmart maintains that it’s neutral, and Walmart and the Waltons’ history of political giving shows a preference for politicians who vote against raising the minimum wage.

Over at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog today, Lydia DePillis adds some interesting insight into Walmart’s activities on the issue, noting that the company reported lobbying on the minimum wage proposal in the fourth quarter of 2013 (reports for the start of 2014 haven’t been filed yet):

And yet, lobbying disclosure reports suggest that [Walmart] might have made up its mind as recently as the end of last year: Its $1,950,000 bill for in-house government relations in the fourth quarter includes a line about “Discussions regarding minimum wage and the Fair Minimum Wage Act (S. 460),” which would raise the wage to $10.10 over two years. That appears to be the first time the company has lobbied on the issue in several years — earlier reports don’t have a field for issues lobbied — and forms for the 10 outside firms it employed during the quarter don’t mention it.

Maybe Walmart does have a stance on raising the minimum wage after all.

The State Representative from…Walmart?

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City officials in Green Bay, WI, are fighting a proposed Walmart in the city’s historic Broadway district, but one state lawmaker has voiced a different opinion. State Representative John Klenke has said this week that he will ask the state’s Building Commission to reconsider $2 million set aside for the expansion of the city’s convention center if the city blocks the Walmart opening.

Alice WaltonRep. Klenke, a Republican representing parts of Green Bay and surrounding areas in the state house, has some powerful friends. As Fox 11 notes, Klenke has received campaign contributions from several members of Walmart’s Walton family. According to data from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Alice, Christy, Jim, and Lynne Walton have each made contributions to Klenke since 2010. In fact, the Waltons are no stranger to Wisconsin state legislative races. Despite the fact that none of them live in Wisconsin, six Waltons were among the top fifteen political donors in Wisconsin state legislative races from 2009-2010, the cycle that brought Republicans to power in the state.

Green Bay’s Mayor Jim Schmitt and members of the public are opposed to Walmart opening in the city’s historic Broadway district. Yet Klenke, who was reportedly previously in favor of the state funding for Green Bay’s convention center expansion, told Fox 11 this week, “If you’re not going to help yourself then why should we help you?” It’s a surprising exertion of government control from a legislator associated with the Tea Party.

It looks like the Waltons’ political contributions continue to pay off.

The (Not So) New Face of Walmart

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Doug McMillonTomorrow, Doug McMillon will become the fifth CEO of Walmart and the youngest to have the job since Sam Walton himself. Before him will be the monumental task of steering the retail giant back on course and into public favor.

An Arkansas native and life-long Walmart employee, McMillon is considered a company insider and Walton family favorite. Analysts have widely approved of his promotion, given his extensive knowledge of the company.

McMillon famously began working for Walmart as a teenager in 1984, in a distribution center position. In 1990, while he was in business school at the University of Tulsa, he rejoined the company as a buyer trainee in sporting goods. He worked his way up and between 1998 and 1999, McMillon was a vice president and general merchandise manager for Sam’s Club stores, after which he was promoted to senior vice president and general merchandise manager for Walmart Stores, Inc. In September 2002, McMillon became executive vice president and chief merchant for Sam’s Club. He was named to lead Sam’s Club in August 2005, a position he held until February 2009, when he became president and CEO of Walmart International. McMillon is now on the Board of Directors for Walmart de Mexico and the U.S.-China Business Council.

McMillon’s biography indicates that he may be the right person to return Walmart to its founding values and build a culture of respect in the company where hard work is again rewarded.  Walmart workers will anxiously welcome him, as they wait to see if he continues on the status quo set forth under CEO Mike Duke or takes the company in a new and better direction.

Walmart lobbied to avoid increased safety in Bangladesh

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Politico broke the news earlier this week that Walmart hired lobbyists to fight a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have cost the company business. Walmart has refused to sign the binding Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, in favor of a voluntary alliance it formed with Gap and other retailers. From Politico:

Retail giant Wal-Mart hired Porter Gordon Silver Communications to work on successfully stripping a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act in December, according to public disclosures released Tuesday. Several members of Congress had championed a worker-safety provision in the annual defense spending bill that would have given procurement priority to companies that signed onto a legally binding Bangladesh workers’ safety agreement called the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Retailers like Wal-Mart and Gap have declined to sign on, and Wal-Mart unveiled its own nonbinding safety plan in May of last year for workers at its Bangladeshi factories. In practice, the provision would have cost Wal-Mart and other retailers not part of the accord a good deal of money — as their products would have suffered at retail stores on military bases as a result of procurement priority given to Accord members.

The Huffington Post describes the intentions behind the NDAA’s ethical sourcing provision:

In the eyes of its crafters, the amendment had a simple underlying message: Markets sanctioned and supported by the U.S. government should be shut off from sweatshop labor…

If passed, the amendment on military exchanges would have been an embarrassment to the alliance, since Congress would have essentially endorsed the accord as a stronger approach to improving safety in Bangladesh. It also would have pressured companies whose clothes are sold in the exchanges to consider joining the accord or face losing business. Alliance leaders asked senators to either insert language putting them on equal footing with the accord or to strip out the accord altogether.

Between December 2012 and May 2013, nearly 1,200 Bangladeshi garment workers were killed in preventable factory fires and building collapses while producing goods mostly for U.S. and European markets. Walmart has responded to the tragedies by refusing to sign the broadly supported Bangladesh Safety Accord and instead proposed its own alternative. In contrast with the accord, Walmart’s plan is a voluntary arrangement without any meaningful enforcement mechanisms, developed without consultation with workers.

In the case of the NDAA, Walmart’s lobbyists were able to help the company again avoid being held accountable for increased safety in the Bangladeshi factories producing goods for the company.

Revealed: Walmart and the NSA are both tracking consumers

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online privacy2Two weeks ago, we wrote about a new report raising concern about Walmart’s consumer data collection. The report, “Consumers, Big Data, and Online Tracking in the Retail Industry,” estimated that Walmart had collected the personal data of more than 145 million Americans, and technical analysis found that Walmart shared consumer data with more than 50 third party companies.

In addition to concerns about how big data is used to profile consumers without their consent, the report sounded the alarm about consumer data being used by government and law enforcement agencies.

The latest revelations about the NSA in yesterday’s Washington Post validated those warnings. The reporters explain, “According to the documents, the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ, are using the small tracking files or “cookies” that advertising networks place on computers to identify people browsing the Internet.” One Google cookie in particular “allows NSA to single out an individual’s communications among the sea of Internet data in order to send out software that can hack that person’s computer.”

In addition, the NSA is using location information gathered by apps to help it locate mobile devices. According to the report about Walmart, the company’s apps and website collect geolocation information, as do Walmart’s in-store wifi networks.

Ultimately, the latest leaked NSA documents make it even clearer that corporate spying and government surveillance aren’t two separate issues. As privacy expert Ed Felten told the Washington Post:

“This shows a link between the sort of tracking that’s done by Web sites for analytics and advertising and NSA exploitation activities,” says Ed Felten, a computer scientist at Princeton University. “By allowing themselves to be tracked for analytic or advertising at least some users are making themselves more vulnerable to exploitation.”

Aida Alvarez participates in corporate astroturfing in California

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AlvarezAT&T customers in California have experienced dramatic increases in the cost of landline service with the state’s largest local phone company in recent years. Following deregulation of most landline services in California in 2006, the flat rate for a landline is up from $10.69/month in 2006 to $23/month earlier this year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. And fees for some other services have risen even faster. Republican Rachelle Chong, who at the time was a California Public Utilities Commissioner, was credited as the driving force behind the plan to deregulate.

A recent post from the blog Stop the Cap! follows the money behind the scenes of Commissioner Chong’s unsuccessful fight to be reappointed to the commission in 2009, in the midst of rising phone costs post-deregulation. They find that many of the organizations supporting Chong had ties to industry groups:

AT&T even turned out…non-profit groups that showered the legislature with letters supporting her reappointment, without bothering to disclose AT&T had made substantial direct or indirect contributions to the groups in the past.

This list includes Walmart director Aida Alvarez. In her capacity as chair of the Latino Community Foundation (LCF), Alvarez sent a letter supporting Chong. What she didn’t mention is that her organization received a $25,000 grant from a nonprofit funded entirely by AT&T and Verizon.

Another Chong supporter later told the LA Times that “he’d endorsed her at the suggestion of executives at AT&T, which has given his group money.”

It appears that Aida Alvarez was a participant in the same kind of astroturfing Walmart has engaged in as it tries to break into urban markets around the U.S.

Legal Disclaimer: UFCW and OUR Walmart have the purpose of helping Wal-Mart employees as individuals or groups in their dealings with Wal-Mart over labor rights and standards and their efforts to have Wal-Mart publically commit to adhering to labor rights and standards. UFCW and OUR Walmart have no intent to have Walmart recognize or bargain with UFCW or OUR Walmart as the representative of Walmart employees. Judges have preliminarily enjoined non-Associates who are part of the UFCW International or OUR Walmart from entering Walmart property in Arkansas (read the order here), Florida (read the order here), Texas (read the order here), Colorado (read the order here) and Maryland (read the order here). A California judge has enjoined non-associate agents of the UFCW and OUR Walmart from engaging in certain activities inside CA Walmart stores. Click here for a copy of the order.