By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights
Black Friday – the term alone can strike fear and excitement in even the most seasoned shoppers. But what consumers often don’t see or understand is what happens on the other side of the counter.
Many stores have announced that they will be open on Thanksgiving to maximize consumer’s Black Friday enthusiasm. They have determined that shoppers are willing to curb their Thanksgiving festivities and traditions to start their holiday shopping on a day that is supposed to be centered on family and giving thanks for the blessings in one’s life. Stores like Costco, Nordstrom, Dillard’s and T.J. Maxx have resisted the urge to open on the holiday, however, many stores including Walmart, Macy’s, Toys “R” Us, and Best Buy will be open to shoppers on Thanksgiving day with some stores opening as early as 6am.
But what does that mean for the workers who have to man the registers and stock the shelves? Many can’t show up to work at 6am on Thanksgiving – they have get to their stores at least an hour before the doors open. What happened to their holiday? What happened to their time for family festivities and traditions?
These workers tend to be low-wage earners that struggle to make ends meet. If a single mother with two children is making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and is working full time, she’s only earning $15,080 a year – well below the poverty rate for a family of three. If she’s making $10 an hour, she’s only earning $20,800 a year – still below the poverty rate and she would qualify for public assistance.
Consumers need to be aware of the reality facing these retail workers. Below is John Paul Ashton’s story of his constant struggle to put food on the table and support his family with meager wages. Ashton happens to work for Walmart, the largest private employer in the US, who also has a proven track record of using illegal retaliation and firings to intimidate and curb worker’s collective bargaining actions. Walmart, is also one of the most profitable retailers in the world. This holiday shopping season, Walmart workers will be taking a stand and protesting the company’s abusive labor practices, including poverty-level wages, stingy benefits, and irregular work schedules that make it impossible for their families to make ends meet.
John Paul Ashton: Scraping By on Less Than $25K
John Paul “JP” Ashton, is a 31-year old Walmart maintenance worker who makes around $20,000 a year. Originally from Colorado, Ashton now lives in Washington. He is the father of two and has worked at Walmart for more than five years to support his family.
“When I first started at Walmart I was told that it was a place where I could grow and have opportunities. I soon discovered that was not the case,” said Ashton. “People take being able to buy lunch for granted. I don’t need a fancy job, but what I do need is a job that allows me to provide for my family and to be able to speak out without fear of retaliation. It would also be nice to have more than $2 in my bank account after I pay my bills.”
Ashton, who must walk 45 minutes to work, prides himself on being a provider for his family. As one of the many Walmart workers who earn less than $25,000 a year, during his time with the mega-retailer Ashton has had to, at times, rely on food banks to feed his family. Currently, he receives food stamps in order to put food on the table.
“No one wants to have to rely on food stamps to live (and trust me I know how to budget the little money I make), but at the end of the day because of what Walmart pays I have no other choice. It’s hard for me to understand how a company that makes all that money and a family that has over $144 billion can justify what they pay workers,” he said.
Ashton, who enrolled in Walmart’s healthcare plan in order to provide insurance to his two children, brings home on average $1200-1400 a month. Often he is unable to pay his rent in full because his bi-weekly paycheck does not cover the full amount.
Ashton joined OUR Walmart because he wanted to have a voice on the job and the ability to speak with management about working conditions without fear of retaliation.
When asked what $25,000 a year would mean for him Ashton’s remark was simple, “Freedom…freedom to do more things for my children.”
“I don’t need or want much. Yes, it would be nice to have a car or maybe a house. It would even be nice to have more than $10 in my bank account. Sam Walton said ‘you treat employees right, treat customers right and we all make money.’ Walmart does not does not live up to that and I am going to keep fighting until they do.”