Walmart, the world's largest retailer (and America's largest private employer), occupies a rather strange place in the business landscape: a technologically innovative company with a down-home reputation – a low-wage, low-benefit employer that prides itself on a family atmosphere. Walmart masks the lousy working conditions that make its profits with its particular form of market populism: millions of "Walmart moms" can't be wrong for wanting to "save money, live better", can they?
But Wednesday, as the company's shareholders prepare to meet in Bentonville, Arkansas, a bunch of Walmart moms are aiming at the company's already-shaky public perception. According to the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (Our Walmart), mothers who work at Walmart stores in more than 20 cities nationwide are on strike. They're taking a common media trope and a key part of the company's own public image and turning it on its head: Walmart, they say, is not a good place for mothers.
It's not just the low wages (although a raise wouldn't hurt): a new study out this week from the non-partisan think tank Demos highlights more than just the difference a raise to $25,000 a year would make for Walmart's workers and others in the retail sector. Amy Traub at Demos looked at the effects of erratic scheduling – specifically on women who hold the majority of low-wage jobs in the sector – and concluded:
The impact of scheduling can be profound: without a stable and predictable work schedule, incomes fluctuate and workers cannot budget effectively.