Why Walmart’s opponents can’t be taken seriously

The newest tactic to disparage Walmart by an organization called the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) involves race, politics and a convoluted connection to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Eight-year Walmart employee and OUR Walmart member Charmaine Givens-Thomas has posted a petition on the organization’s website invoking the name of the slain civil rights leader. She is seeking 100,000 signatures and a meeting with president Barack Obama to address the injustices to which she contends Walmart subjects its workers.

"The day President Obama was inaugurated I, like many others, felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and hope,” according to an email distributed by OUR Walmart. “As a 61-year-old African American woman who marched with Martin Luther King Jr., I felt like we were closer to realizing King’s dream of good jobs and freedom. Today, we may not have segregation by law, but we have it in practice thanks to the economic realities of our country. For people regardless of race or upbringing to sit at the same lunch counter, they have to be able to afford the same lunch.”

Givens-Thomas contends Walmart pays workers poverty wages, begrudges the Walton family the wealth it has accumulated and asserts the company violates labor laws. Her diatribe covers a lot of familiar ground and will likely resonate with other low wage workers who feel they should receive an arbitrarily higher wage that is disconnected from the economic value created by their efforts.

No one is suggesting Walmart is a perfect company. Given its size, the law of large numbers suggests over the years there have been plenty of workers wrongly terminated, discriminated against or denied promotions unrelated to job performance. That said, the arguments put forth by OUR Walmart and Givens-Thomas once again show the retailer’s opponents lack a basic understanding, or choose to ignore, the business fundamentals of the retail industry and marketplace realities that prevent retailers from paying higher wages to workers with limited skills and a misguided sense of entitlement.

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