Long Live Walmart? No Way!

With $485.9 billion in global revenue and 1.5 million employees in the U.S. alone, Walmart the corporation isn’t going away anytime soon. But this Thursday evening, I’ll argue that its business model – based on low pay, understaffing, and low respect for the employees that make the business function – deserves to go the way of the dinosaurs.

Facing off against conservative economist Richard Vedder and the Manhattan Institute’s John Tierney, I will team up with historian Nelson Lichtenstein in a public debate about whether the Walmart’s way of doing business merits longevity. The debate is organized by Intelligence Squared US.

You can watch live online, April 6 at 6:45pm at intelligencesquaredus.org 

If “long live Walmart?” is the question, then the answer is clear: Walmart must change substantially if it is to be worthy of a long life.

My research has examined a number of ways the nation’s largest private employer could improve pay, benefits and scheduling, including redirecting the $6.6 billion Walmart spent on share repurchases in 2013 to make a greater investment in its 825,000 low-wage employees. Without raising prices a dime, Walmart could have used these funds to provide a raise of $5.13 per hour, boosting productivity and sales in the process.  

I’ve also looked at Walmart’s checkered history as the largest private employer of women in the US, including facing the biggest gender discrimination lawsuit in American history, with numerous claims that are not yet settled. I argue that If Walmart fully addressed the concerns of the 807,000 women who enable its stores to operate every day, it would transform the retail landscape and be a powerful positive force for working women throughout the economy.

Walmart has recently raised its starting pay for employees. Yet, as hundreds of thousands of Walmart workers – especially those standing up and organizing with OUR Walmart – can tell you, Walmart’s most publicized reforms have been more flash than substance.

At the same time, as Senator Bernie Sanders points out, the Walton family – six wealthy heirs who still own half of Walmart and continue to benefit as the company profits –  already owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans.

Walmart remains in the center of the story about America’s growing inequality and the ways our economy is deeply out of balance. I look forward to making the case that the company must change substantially to be worth any hope that it “live long.” Watch live online, April 6 at 6:45pm at intelligencesquaredus.org  

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