What About Part Timers?

I was just reading an article about how Walmart is complaining that the District of Columbia insists upon a big box store minimum wage of $12.50 and hour. Walmart says they won’t build the three stores they have planned for DC if that goes into effect. The article also suggests that they may try to go ahead with the build out, but to keep the each store’s square footage below the 75,000 square foot threshold over which the new wage would kick in. The article frames the argument within the context of urban unionization and its commensurate political power and the head butting they are engaged in with Walmart over their territory.

Lower down in the article was reference to something that bothers me, the impact upon people of part-time and contract employment. You see, it’s only the full-time employees who would be guaranteed the $12.50. The part-timers and contract players would be left dangling. This is probably a symptom of two things: the union’s refusal to take care of its weakest first and Walmart’s insistence that it can look upon reducing wages as a means of reducing costs well past the point where the returns derived from it begin, in fact, to bring new unexpected costs of their own.

As for unions not taking care of their weakest first, I first noticed this trend years ago when I read an article about how some union, I think it was to do with steel, was responding to industry pressure by throwing their younger workers under the bus in order to ensure the previously agreed upon status of their older workers. No concessions were asked of the older workers. The younger were asked to leave or go forward under a contract that protected them in a second class way in comparison to the older workers. Since I read that article I have seen similar instances take place over the years in reports of what is happening between labor and management. Organized labor has tended for years to separate those they perceive as enfranchised from those they don’t. The new worker has had to go forward without the aid of the old, while the old has continued to rely on the new. This has led to a generation that is beginning to absolutely stuff the nursing homes whilst those in their support system look on and admit they can only dream of such a future.

As for Walmart, there have been several reports over the past year of shelves left empty and food not properly rotated due to a lack of manpower. Critics have said this is down to how even in a recession people don’t want to work at Walmart for the wages being offered. Overweight Republicans might say this is down to how they can make almost as much money doing nothing on unemployment due to generous unemployment extensions wrought by evil liberal Democrats, but let’s be real, not all solutions are so easily taken from fantastical or fairy tale visions of how society operates.

I was at a Walmart the other day looking to buy a vacuum cleaner. I saw the perfect one, in its floor model. I couldn’t, however, find a single box containing it under or around the display area. Then I noticed a group of Walmart managers involved in some kind of a training session standing nearby, so I went over and asked one of them for help. I figured rightly that they would have to actually try to help me because they couldn’t be seen not to in front of such a group of their peers. The woman who split off from the group looked around and couldn’t find one either. I asked about another vacuum, whether it had as powerful a motor as the one I liked. She opened up a box of one of those and we looked at the writing on its motor. It didn’t. That was when I mentioned the stories I had seen in the news about how Walmart was having trouble with its stocking because, I said, they weren’t hiring enough people to do the stocking in order to save money. I was trying to rephrase the situation and put Walmart in a kinder light, not referring to low wages and the lack of people applying. That’s when she said, “There wouldn’t be any trouble if those people would actually come into work.” She suggested that those people call in sick or take time off too frequently and that was why they were having problems. No matter how you look at it the situation cost them a vacuum cleaner sale.

I would like to suggest there is a solution in between the two groups arguing in DC. Walmart could offer health insurance to their part-time and contact employees, at the same cost level as full-time employees would pay. They could make certain that this insurance came with no strings attached, and was something they could take with them if they got furloughed or left of their own accord. What does it cost Walmart to be the central organizer that defines a group of people before an insurance company? Why not begin to tackle the problem of insurance costs by forming pools of people by some kind of sensible rank, like their lot as hourly or contract workers at Walmart?  How many people do you know who still bank at credit unions long after the job they once held which once qualified them to bank there has become a distant memory? Certainly, this would not address the employer side of the insurance contribution, but it might begin to open up a dialog as to how important that should be as well. Oh, yeah, the benefit would encroach upon the pride of those who have managed to attain full-time hourly status, perhaps making them feel less well respected. But isn’t it about time they stopped trying to say that the luck they have had is somehow tantamount to actual meritorious work. Or, to take the other side of the argument, that their fate is more closely tied to the fate of those who work beside them than they care to accept.

Sometimes the way to go ahead when enduring scarce times is not the obvious way of looking out only for yourself and hoarding. Sometimes the way is to go forward is as a group. Even within groups there are divisions, but the lines tend to be less stark, and there is greater redundancy even in the most frightening times.

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