Wal-Mart Workers Take Message To Congress: Pay a Living Wage

Emily Foster

Members from the House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday joined with Wal-Mart employees at a forum to challenge Wal-Mart to pay its workers a living wage.

While Wal-Mart averages a profit of about $1.8 million per hour, its wages are so low that in Wisconsin, taxpayers pay between $900,000 and $1.7 million a year to supplement the poverty wages of the employees at a typical Wal-Mart supercenter, according to a report done by Democrats on the House Education and Workforce committee.

A living wage would eliminate the necessity for employees to receive public assistance through programs such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said that large corporations and Republicans in Congress are “balancing the budget on the backs of workers,” and that they have “dominated the conversation for too long.” Miller and others insist for a minimum of a $25,000 annual salary for Wal-Mart employees. “A decent wage. A fair wage. A livable wage. That is the demand.”

Due to their extremely low wages, Wal-Mart employees are “forced to turn to government aid,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). Employees are just asking for a “minimum of $25,000 – not a luxury wage, and barely even a living wage for many families.”

Schakowsky emphasized that “Taxpayers are subsidizing Wal-Mart. When workers earn more, our economy does better. I don’t think [a minimum of $25,000] is too much to ask.”

Raising salaries to this minimum would allow workers to pull themselves out of poverty and stop relying on taxpayer funded assistance.

Anthony Goytia, a Wal-Mart employee from East Los Angeles, Calif., detailed his struggles while working for the corporation. Goytia said he makes only $12,000 per year due to his “unreliable hours and a wage of just $9.60 per hour.” Goytia, a father and husband, said that he wants “nothing more than to provide for [his] family” but due to his $12,000 annual income, his family is “forced to rely on SNAP and WIC.”

Gail Todd, a Washington D.C.-area Wal-Mart associate, makes $10.40 an hour and about $16,000 annually. Todd is forced to rely on government assistance to help provide for her family’s most basic needs. Todd lamented the fact that she has to struggle to decide to pay for her “electricity or [her] daughter’s senior high school fees.”

With a clear emotional strain in her voice, Todd commented that her daughter, a senior in high school, has a dream of going to college and getting a degree in criminal justice. However, she “simply cannot afford” to send her daughter to school. “As a parent, it is my job to provide my daughter with an education. If Wal-Mart paid me $25,000, I could at least help set aside some funds.”

Richard Wilson, a Wal-Mart associate from Illinois, made just $14,000 last year. Wilson says that he is a college graduate who was “personally recruited” by a Wal-Mart, and ended up “setting [himself] on the wrong plan” in life. Wilson says that he cannot afford Wal-Mart’s co-op health insurance plan, so is forced to rely on federal assistance. He said, “my American Dream has been stolen from me.”

It is time for large corporations to raise wages, so that the basic needs of their employees can be met, and so that employees can use their income to contribute to economic growth. Wal-Mart and the Walton family’s greed is taking a toll on every single taxpaying American.

When it comes down to the facts, it is ridiculous that Wal-Mart’s employees are struggling to survive, when the corporation makes at least $17 billion in profits per year. Wal-Mart’s greed is placing a burden on workers and taxpayers alike. For the wealthy corporation’s hardest working employees, $25,000 is a reasonable minimum salary. The real question, Todd says, is “Why not?”

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