The litany of complaints of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) workers who plan to walk off their jobs this week include objections to low pay, the company’s roadblocks against unionization and the decision of the country’ largest retailer to make some of its employees work extra hours or inconvenient ones over the Thanksgiving weekend. These workers need to decide whether they want their jobs at all.
Walmart does pay among the lowest hourly wages of any very large company based in America. To some extent, wages are linked to skills. Unfortunately, in almost every economy, low skill and low wages match up. Stocking shelves and showing customers items for sale at Walmart locations cannot be compared with assembling a car or driving a train. Walmart workers may have no choice in terms of employment, perhaps due to education or a shortage of jobs where they live. Either way, a job usually trumps no job.
Walmart has the right to object to organized labor. And it has a right to force workers to take on holiday shifts, as long as the company breaks no laws. Walmart has the right to make a profit and return strong results to public shareholders. These goals may make its employees jobs harder or less convenient, but workplace inconvenience often has its base in an employer’s right to use employees to their most profitable effect. That is part of the bargain between many workers and employers, no matter how troubling it may seem.
Walmart’s need for workers usually does match with employees burdened with low skills. Hundreds of thousands of people are out of work and can do those jobs. Walmart can replace disgruntled workers, perhaps quietly over time, with people who would rather have jobs than complain. Walmart workers can protest that their rights have been trampled. In a sense that might be true, but in an economy where low-wage jobs are precious, inconvenient hours and lack of a union are a modest price to pay.
Douglas A. McIntyre