Last January, Walmart announced their upcoming initiative to offer a job to any honorably-discharged U.S. military veteran, set to begin on May 27. It was an idea that the White House applauded, with Michelle Obama saying that “Wal-Mart is setting a groundbreaking example for the private sector to follow.”
As you might imagine, the AFL-CIO doesn’t like that at all. Behold, a statement from their president, Richard Trumka, on the “White House facilitating Walmart’s public relations move”:
Walmart’s recent announcement of a plan to hire returning honorably discharged veterans is more about public relations than honoring our heroes. That this effort was valorized by President Obama and Vice President Biden reflects an acceptance of economic failure out of line with America’s history or future.
We owe it to our returning veterans to make sure they are treated as the heroes they are, rather than as symbols used to “greenwash” Walmart’s eroding brand. After facing enemies abroad, is an $8.81 an hour part-time job the best we can offer returning veterans?
Already, working families and our economy are struggling against an epidemic of low-paying, low-benefit, part-time work. Instead of legitimizing that trend, we need to treat the talents of our veterans—and of all of America’s people—as a critical national resource.
We need businesses in this country to step up and make family-sustaining jobs available to returning veterans. Previous generations of heroes returned from overseas service to critical jobs in manufacturing, construction and public service, jobs that enabled veterans to help build the nation and support families. With the right policies, including those in President Obama and Vice President Biden’s American Jobs Act, we can live up to the standards of our past and empower our veterans for the future.
Er, so what if it’s a PR thing? In this country and in this day and age, it is worth companies’ while to maintain a good public image, and that is very a good thing. The free enterprise system is a version of the most direct form of democracy there is, and dollars are like votes; you can decline to send your dollars to a company whose business practices you disapprove of, and companies are plenty aware of this. It is also good for company’s bottom lines to “be green” and reduce their environmental footprints, to give some of their profits to charity, to sell products that work, and etcetera, but you rarely hear anyone complaining about that.
And find as much fault as you will with Walmart’s low-wage labor, but it’s no secret and people still shop there in droves — because that low-wage labor is directly related to their vastly less expensive products. As Charles Kenny put it over at FP last week:
More than 1 billion people still live in the borderlands of absolute deprivation, scraping by on less than $1.25 a day. Nevertheless, many have more access to goods and services than they did only a few years ago (even if they’re not yet buying their cassava at the Ouagadougou Walmart). That’s in part because companies around the world have figured out how to make and ship the stuff that poor people want at lower cost, which makes lives better. Call it the global Walmart effect.
There are two ways to help poor people buy more of what they need. One is to help them make more money. The other is to make the money they have go further. And Walmart has proved incredibly adept at that second approach. Take food, for instance. Walmart is the world’s biggest food retailer, and it offers foods at prices considerably lower than those at traditional supermarkets — as much as 25 percent lower, according to economists Jerry Hausman and Ephraim Leibtag. Factor in all the other stuff it sells, and Walmart’s overall impact on its shoppers’ spending power is even greater.
Unions have had longtime beef with Walmart, and it can’t help their mood that union membership across the country is steadily declining. Criticizing Walmart’s very solid initiative as an example of “acceptance of economic failure,” rather than everything that’s actually wrong with the economy (much of it stemming from big-government initiatives, I might add), is just dumb.