You know that one uncle who brings a bucket of fried chicken to every family dinner, barbecue, graduation or cookout? Everybody makes a big deal out of it; you’re thankful he came through, until you find out that he’s the night manager at Popeyes and is basically bringing you day-old chicken he got for free. Or that friend who works at the Apple Store who makes a big deal out of giving folks plastic screen protectors as Christmas gifts: Not being ungrateful, but you can’t spring for some headphones with that 50 percent employee discount? An OtterBox, maybe?
Last week, business journalists and corporate media outlets went crazy praising Walmart for announcing that it was giving away $1,000 bonuses, raising minimum wage across its stores and increasing maternity leave, all thanks to the GOP tax plan. On the surface, it seemed as if thousands of working Americans had just gotten that bucket of extra spicy; turns out, they really just got some day-old biscuits.
Walmart is one of the many mega-corporations in America to have a Faustian bargain with the Republican Party to brand company public relations campaigns with Republican talking points. (Remember when Papa John’s tried to tell us that it would have to raise prices on its nasty pizza because of Obamacare?)
Thanks to those hardworking members of Congress and their tax plan, Walmart announced that it was so flush with cash that it would be offering goodies to the roughly 2 million men and women who work for it across the country. The plan was to:
- Raise the companywide minimum wage to $11.
- Offer one-time $1,000 bonuses to employees.
- Increase paid paternity leave for hourly and salaried employees.
On the surface, this sounds great. Walmart isn’t just the nation’s largest employer, and the only game in town in many rural areas; Walmart is the largest private employer of African Americans in the country (pdf). Who doesn’t want a few extra dollars per dreary work hour? The problem is, this was all just a pump fake to screw over working people, dressed up to look like corporate citizenship.
First, Walmart didn’t increase its wages because of the GOP tax plan. Walmart, along with Target, Costco and several other major employers, has been raising its wages almost every year since 2014 because the economy was improving, unemployment was down and it had to compete for applicants. Walmart had an increased minimum wage in 2015 and 2016 already (thanks, President Obama). More importantly, there are over 18 states and cities that raised their minimum wages at the start of the new year, so Walmart had to pay $11 to be legally compliant across various markets. By the way, $11 an hour for 40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year is still around $2,000 below the federal poverty level for a family of four.
That $1,000 bonus Walmart was talking about? Turns out it only applies to Walmart employees with 20 years at the company, and given that Walmart “associates” have a higher turnover than the Suicide Squad, not many people are going to see that bonus. Plus, while Fox News was having a “MAGA”-gasm covering the bonuses, Walmart quietly closed 63 of its Sam’s Club stores, putting more than 9,000 people out of work the first week of the new year.
What’s worse is, there was no warning. Many people only found out when they got to work that morning and saw a closed door with a sign saying, “We Out.”
To top it off, Walmart gutted over 1,000 “corporate” jobs as well, hurting, you know, the kind of people who might have actually put in 20 years or more at the company.
Given these massive layoffs across so many levels of the Walmart corporation, the number of people even eligible for parental and maternity leave has dropped by the thousands in one day. Mind you, this is just phase 1 of the chummy relationship between Donald Trump, the Republican-controlled Congress and big employers across the United States. Companies will praise the current administration’s policies, then put on their track shoes in a race to the bottom for worker rights and pay.
According to Americans for Tax Reform, over 55 companies—including Comcast, Boeing, Bank of America and even Aflac—have announced GOP-tax-plan “bonuses.” The catch is that when you add up all these bonuses to employees, they amount to only 0.13 percent of what these companies get from the tax plan. Which means that they’re keeping 99 percent of the savings and giving less than 1 percent to workers. In the case of Walmart, it gets an extra $1.85 billion a year of pocket change thanks to the new law, and its one-time bonus is only 2 percent of that.
Just to be clear, this isn’t some limousine liberal classist argument against a minimum wage increase. If you’re getting by on a federal minimum wage and Walmart’s jump to $11 an hour helps you, that’s great. If that sliding scale of bonuses it’s offering ends up getting you an extra $50 one-time bonus and you’re living paycheck to paycheck, this is good news. Let’s just not pretend that this is any form of generosity or good corporate citizenship from Walmart; it’s a PR scam to cover up massive layoffs and increase profits at the expense of hardworking citizens.
Walmart’s corporate rap sheet is longer than the lines on Christmas Eve. It routinely discriminates against African-American employees and customers. It did nothing about the in-store police shooting of John Crawford III in Ohio, whose only crime was thinking that a black man could be on a cellphone while shopping. This is the same Walmart that funds anti-worker think tanks, keeps wages low, routinely shaves hours, break unions and minimizes workers’ rights. All subsidized by the tax breaks that Republicans snatched out of our pockets.
No one really knows how the new GOP tax plan will work out, but most estimates are that it won’t do much for your average man and woman trying to hold down a regular job and pay bills. Consequently, Walmart deserves no praise for its new “worker-friendly” tax policies. No more so than you’d praise your roommate who is always borrowing your car to go to work, never pays for any gas and one day gifts you with a really nice pine-scented air freshener as a thank-you. Did I mention that your friend works at a gas station?
Nobody needs Walmart’s version of corporate “friendly.”