San Francisco Chronicle
Michael Bender's op/ed appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle
Walmart had its best Black Friday ever last week, and yet the media coverage created the illusion that Walmart’s associates were protesting instead of serving customers. Nothing could be further from the truth. We could not be more proud of our associates.
Well-meaning people following the Walmart “protests” should suspend their assumptions about what our associates think of their jobs for a moment and consider what’s really going on here. Our associates are hardworking women and men who have chosen to work for us — as a part-time job or a long-term career. They are proud of their jobs and, contrary to popular belief, quite happy in them. Only about 100 out of our 1.3 million people took part in Black Friday “protests”; the people you saw on TV do not work for us.
And yet some unions, as well as community activists, academics and others, keep volunteering to speak for our associates. Some of it may come from a good place, but, frankly, it assumes that our associates don’t know what’s best for their own lives and families.
Our associates find it frustrating to see their life choices disparaged by outsiders, and they’ve urged us to respond. Walmart recently filed its first National Labor Relations Board complaint in more than a decade to stop the United Food and Commercial Workers union from falsely claiming to speak for them. Federal law prohibits picketing for recognition for more than 30 days without calling for a union vote, and the activities by the UFCW have gone far beyond that. The group is essentially trying to speak for our associates without their consent. That’s just not acceptable.
I want our associates to know that we have their backs. Here’s some hard data that tells the real story.
First, let me introduce you to what I call “the 86 percent.” You’ve heard of “the 99 percent” and “the 47 percent,” but who are the “86 percent”? We recently did a confidential survey of more than 20,000 hourly workers to see what’s really on our associates’ minds. Some 86 percent responded they “agree” or “strongly agree” with the statement “I really love my job.” Then 89 percent said they’d “definitely recommend my company to a friend.” This helps explain why 99.99 percent of our associates declined the chance to protest against Walmart.
Our associates know the truth: We typically pay as much or more than the competition, the majority of our associates work full time, and entry-level pay often exceeds that of union hires. We offer quarterly bonus opportunities and have paid out $550 million in cash bonuses this year. We also offer careers, not just jobs: 75 percent of our store management teams started as hourly associates, and we’ve promoted 165,000 associates this year. Of those we hired last year, 20 percent were rehires — meaning they worked for Walmart, left, but came back. I could go on, but the bottom line is we are offering competitive jobs, and we treat our associates fairly.
Like any workplace, there will always be a few people who don’t have the experience they were expecting. It’s not surprising that an outside group can use that same handful of folks to make noise. But the overwhelming majority of Walmart associates who love their jobs deserve a voice, too.
It’s ironic — the union group calls itself the Organization United for Respect at Walmart. And yet they are not treating our associates with the respect they deserve.
Michael Bender is the president of Walmart West.