On February 20, the world's largest retailer, Walmart, announced that it would pay its hourly US employees $9 an hour by April 2015, and $10 an hour by February 2016. This will mean a pay raise for half a million part-time and full-time employees in 4,400 stores in the first half of 2015.
The wage increase, along with changes in the company's hiring, training and scheduling policies, will cost about $1 billion in the current financial year, or about 0.2 percent of the $497 billion that Walmart is projected to generate in 2015. Starting in 2016, Walmart will also offer some workers fixed schedules each week. (More predictable scheduling has been a key demand of protesting workers.)
The pay increase comes after three years of sustained actions by the employee group OUR Walmart and its community allies, and growing criticism of the company's poverty wages. Since 2012, OUR Walmart has organized widespread strikes on Black Friday, transforming it into a national day of action against the retailer, and protests around the company's annual general meeting (AGM). In addition to higher wages, they have demanded more full-time work, predictable scheduling and an end to retaliation against employees who speak out against poor wages and working conditions.
Below is a chronology of how OUR Walmart and its allies forced the world's largest corporation to raise wages and make concessions on scheduling and other issues:
June 2011: One hundred workers who are part of Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), formed in the fall of 2010, travel to Walmart's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, to demand higher wages and better working conditions.
October 2012: Walmart workers in at least 12 cities in four states - California, Florida, Texas and Maryland - walk off the job in protest against poor wages and working conditions, and retaliation against employees who speak out.
September and November 2012: Workers at a Walmart warehouse in California walk off the job to protest against management retaliation.
November 2012: On the "CBS Evening News," a Walmart spokesman threatens "consequences" against workers who take part in Black Friday protests.
Black Friday 2012: Despite management threats, several hundred workers strike, joined by thousands of community supporters and civil rights, immigrant rights, women's rights, environmental and religious groups.
April 2013: Workers at 150 stores participate in a "day of action" to highlight concerns about working hours and erratic scheduling.
May 2013: Democratic staff of the House Labor Committee issue a report stating that the annual cost to taxpayers at just one Walmart store "as a result of inadequate wages and benefits is about $1 million." Thus, if employees do not get sufficient income from Walmart, they rely on public assistance, imposing a significant cost on taxpayers.
May 2013: About 100 workers, including workers in California, Florida and Massachusetts, participate in the first prolonged strike against the company to protest wages, working conditions and retaliation. The workers organize a bus "ride for respect" to the company's AGM in Bentonville.
June 2013: Sixty workers who participated in protests to attend the AGM were subsequently fired or disciplined for supporting the prolonged strike.
October 2013: In response to criticism of its poverty wages, then-Walmart CEO Bill Simon says that 475,000 employees earned more than $25,000 in 2012. This means that 825,000 workers earned less than $25,000 per year.
November 2013: Despite Walmart's claims that workers' protests were having no impact, strikes spread to stores in California, Florida, Illinois and Washington State. In addition to pay, the protests highlight scheduling problems.
November 2013: In response to the company's intimidation tactics, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) authorizes the issuance of unfair labor practice complaints against Walmart concerning threats against workers for participating in the 2012 Black Friday protests.
November 2013: Walmart is widely ridiculed after a store in Ohio holds a food drive for its workers who cannot survive on their wages.
Black Friday 2013: Thousands of people in 46 states participate in protests at 1,500 locations. Some 110 people are arrested. Along with fast-food workers, Walmart strikers are now key actors in a national movement for a living wage.
January 2014: The NLRB's general counsel issues a consolidated complaint against Walmart, alleging that it violated the rights of more than 60 workers for engaging in protests at 34 stores in 14 states. It is the largest complaint ever against the company, indicating the intensity of its unlawful actions.
April 2014: In response to criticism, Walmart rolls out a new "Access to Open Shifts" scheduling system to improve transparency and consistency. But it continues to attract criticism for its treatment of pregnant employees, many of whom have lost their jobs because it fails to accommodate them.
June 2014: OUR Walmart workers from Arizona, California, Washington, DC, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Washington State and Wisconsin protest at the company's AGM. Company spokesperson Kory Lundberg states: "I would put our wages up against any retailer."
October 2014: As a result of the protests, Walmart announces that it will raise pay for 6,000 employees who are paid the minimum wage. OUR Walmart demands that it raise the wages of all hourly-paid employees.
Black Friday 2014: OUR Walmart and its supporters participate in the "biggest Black Friday mobilization ever," insisting that the company pay a minimum $15 per hour and provide workers with full-time schedules.
February 2015: In response to escalating protests and widespread criticism, Walmart makes its landmark announcement on wage increases.
Not Enough, but Pressure on Walmart Will Continue to Escalate
The pay announcement demonstrates the falsehood of Walmart's statements that workers' protests have had no impact and that its poverty wages are competitive. After making $16 billion in profits in 2014, however, it still fails to provide living wages, full-time work or decent conditions for hundreds of thousands of employees. The New York Times editorial board wrote: "A hugely profitable corporation like Walmart can readily afford to do better than those measly increases."
While not enough, the company's wage increase will have an impact on other virulently anti-union retailers such as Target and Home Depot that pay poverty wages. It will also boost the "Fight for 15" campaign for fast-food and other workers that started with protests at McDonald's in New York City in 2012. Now more than ever, Walmart, McDonald's and other low-wage service workers have reason to believe that their protests will advance the campaign for a living wage.