The American Values Agenda for Change at Wal-Mart

Our Challenge to Wal-Mart for Substantive Change

Wal-Mart has profoundly changed working America.

From where we shop to where we work, the types of jobs we do and the workplace benefits we earn, from the source of the products we buy to threats to our health and our environment, Wal-Mart has transformed our lives and is increasingly defining our possibilities as workers, consumers and communities.

No other private, profit-making enterprise in the history of our country has had the economic scope and impact of Wal-Mart.

It is the largest private employer in the U.S. and is the largest private employer in more states than any other corporation. Its labor market impact has placed steady downward pressure on wages, benefits and conditions.

It is the largest retailer. It has shifted shopping from the town square and from local and regional stores to mega-centers supplied from around the globe. Small shop owners and regional chains are becoming extinct. In some areas, it has become the only retail option. More than 150 million Americans visit Wal-Mart each week.

It is the largest single outlet for imported goods from entire nations, and the largest retailer for a vast array of the products produced by the U.S. Fortune 500. No vendor or supplier can negotiate with Wal-Mart on an equal footing.

Its wage rates and benefit levels set the standard across the labor market. Its demands on suppliers to reduce their cost to Wal-Mart has brought repeated cuts in wages, forced domestic companies to move overseas and has driven foreign suppliers from country to country seeking the lowest wages, the least environmental protection and the most compliant governments.

Its 1.4 million U.S. workers face poverty-level wages, inadequate benefits and insufficient work hours to support families or sustain a modest middle class standard of living. Its failure to provide quality, affordable health care to hundreds of thousands of workers has worsened our health care crisis and driven other employers to reduce or eliminate benefits.

It has completely mismanaged the workplace with 1.6 million women suing the company for systematic sex discrimination, with hundreds of thousands forced to court to obtain overtime pay they worked to earn, with repeated violation of basic workplace standards, and with a policy of massive resistance to the basic human and legal right of workers to organize for a voice in the workplace.

Its global supply chain threatens our environment with the largest single carbon footprint of any private commercial entity. In seeking lower wages, and taking advantage of lax environmental regulation, it needlessly imports goods that are manufactured a world away from the ultimate point of sale forcing vast, wasteful consumption of resources shipping goods around the globe that could be supplied locally. Its supply practices have exposed our families to unsafe and potentially deadly products imported from nations without effective product safety regulations.

It has disregarded its responsibility to our communities. It has engaged in tax avoidance scams that have cost our states and localities billions in lost tax revenue, effectively raising our taxes and straining basic community services from schools to roads to police protection.

Its claims of change ring false. And its claims of providing a better standard of living for working families are hollow. It has made the Walton family the single richest family in the world with accumulated wealth of $158.4 billion.

Wal-Mart's operation is not about lower prices, it is about more and more wealth for the Waltons.

And we have paid a terrible price. Working America has lost jobs and health benefits, suffered reduced pay and opportunity, seen our town and neighborhood stores abandoned, our environment degraded, unsafe products brought into our homes, and experienced widespread violation of basic worker rights.

Wal-Mart is America's store.

Wal-Mart is America's workplace.

Wal-Mart is America's town center.

Wal-Mart must reflect America's values.

Hard work should bring pay and benefits that can support families.

Workers have rights that even the largest employer must recognize and respect.

Our nation, our states and our localities have standards that must be obeyed regardless of the size or wealth of the corporation.

Our environment must be protected and products must be sustainable for our families and our future.

We challenge Wal-Mart on Labor Day 2009 to an American Values Agenda for Change.

* Worker Rights: Workers must have the right to self-organization to promote positive and productive workplace practices. No worker should have to go to court to get her pay. No worker should have to file suit to stop discrimination or harassment. And no worker should have to suffer in silence while being denied opportunity, overtime pay, a break or even safe working conditions. Wal-Mart must cease its policy of massive resistance to the exercise of worker rights.

We challenge Wal-Mart to work with us---labor, civil rights, women's, minority and faith organizations---to develop a code of conduct for Wal-Mart to protect the rights of workers consistent with legal and human rights standards.

* Quality Jobs: Wage and benefit levels should be designed to maximize economic security and stable jobs for the community. Training to increase productivity, equal opportunity and reduced turnover can all contribute to higher pay and better benefits, while at the same time maintaining low prices for consumers. Where workers choose, wages and benefits should be subject to good faith negotiations between workers and Wal-Mart. The current low wage/high turnover strategy will only impoverish our families and our communities.

We challenge Wal-Mart to work with us to develop pay and benefits programs that promote the economic well-being of working families and communities.

* Workplace Fairness: Equal opportunity must be promoted. It is a core American value and allows workers to realize their potential for themselves, the company and the consumer. Wal-Mart has failed after numerous lawsuits and complaints to effectively remedy the problem of discrimination.

We challenge Wal-Mart to work with us to develop workplace practices that will end discrimination and promote a workplace culture of opportunity.

* Corporate Responsibility: Responsible corporate behavior is key to developing prosperous and vibrant communities. For too long, Wal-Mart's size and power has exempted them from those responsibilities. It has devised tax avoidance schemes that shortchange our towns and states at a time when budgets are stretched to the breaking point. Wal-Mart has allowed taxpayers to shoulder the burden of its associates' coverage through Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Plans.

We challenge Wal-Mart to work with us to become the kind of neighbor that is welcomed with open arms and rises to the challenges faced by the community, rather than compounding them by failing to shoulder their share of the burden.

* Healthy Environment: Local sourcing should be the standard practice for stocking Wal-Mart stores in order to reduce the environmental impact and to create local jobs. Technology allows the sourcing of products from virtually anywhere---including areas in close proximity to Wal-Mart stores. Many products produced and shipped from around the world could be produced here in the U.S. Competition for sourcing should be based on quality, productivity, and product safety---not on poverty-level wages, absence of environmental regulation or authoritarian governments.

We challenge Wal-Mart to work with us to develop sourcing protocols that will reduce Wal-Mart's environmental footprint and create local jobs.

We are eager to work with Wal-Mart to create a better workplace, healthier planet, and more vibrant community. In the coming months, we will take several important steps in this effort:

1) We will establish an accountability project to keep Wal-Mart honest. We will commission reports from the country's leading environmental, economic and labor experts to explore where Wal-Mart is living up to its claims, and where the retail giant could be doing more. It is impossible to change unless you know the truth, and it is sometimes difficult to discern myth from reality when it comes to the retail giant.

2) We will continue to support, and grow Wal-Mart Workers for Change, an organization of associates who have realized the power they have to change their company from within when they speak with a united voice.

3) We will build local community coalitions to develop and implement a set of minimum community standards for Wal-Mart's corporate conduct. These coalitions will enforce the core American values of worker rights, quality jobs, workplace fairness, corporate responsibility and a healthy environment by informing consumers, supporting workers and engaging local elected officials.

4) We will convene a summit of Wal-Mart associates, industry experts, community activists, former Wal-Mart managers, economists, academics, and consumers to address, develop and advance the American Values Agenda for Change at Wal-Mart.

Our nation is facing a moment of intense challenges, but also great opportunities. Because Wal-Mart is a presence in so many of our communities, because it employs so many, because it affects the lives of working families across the country and around the world, it is uniquely positioned to be a powerful force for change.

We challenge Wal-Mart, on Labor Day 2009, to join with us and work to create the vibrant workplace, the healthy planet and the thriving community that we all want and are willing and ready to work for.

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