This week, hundreds of Walmart employees walked off their jobs to protest their working conditions. They are part of the larger “Fight for 15” movement that’s sprung up across the U.S. to prompt employers to provide workers with a living wage.
But low retail wages are a problem everywhere —according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 5 million Americans are employed as retail sales workers, earning a median hourly wage of $10.29.
So why is Walmart always the primary target of these protests among large retail companies?
Anthony Wilson can explain.
He works at the Walmart at 8331 S. Stewart in Chicago. He’s been employed there since it opened in 2011 as the city's first Walmart location.
Despite those three years of employment, Wilson, 28, now only makes $10.55 an hour, even though he’s now considered a full-time employee. He said he lives an hour and a half from his job, and can’t afford to get to work every day, so he is getting paid part-time hours.
He has put in to transfer to a location closer to his home, but said Walmart won’t let him do so without cutting his already meagre pay.
Surely someone like Target would have done something similar.
Not so, Wilson said.
“‘[Target] was accommodating,” he said, explaining he worked there before getting hired by Walmart. “If you had transportation issues, they would make ways to fit around schedule, and would not your cut hours.”
Walmart, Wilson said, has become adept at hitting back against workers like Wilson who object to their situation, while still staying within company policy.
“They’re allowing [management] to pick on me,” he said.
The sentiment jibes with a recent Fusion poll compiled using data from jobs review site Glassdoor that showed that while Walmart pays its hourly employees slightly more than Target, Target scores better on its overall rating as an employer. Walmart has in recent years faced dozens of lawsuits from workers alleging the company forced them to skip breaks or work off the clock. Target does not appear to have faced similar accusations.
Wilson, along with more than 30 Chicago-area Walmart employees walked off the job Friday as part of Walmart protests organized by OUR Walmart, a union-backed group.
About 100 individuals in total, many affiliated with other unions, showed up at Chicago’s protest Friday.
Erica Jones, a Chicago-based Walmart representative, dismissed Friday's demonstration, which occurred outside a Neighborhood Market location downtown, saying it appeared many protesters were not actually affiliated with Walmart.
“We’ve got plenty of associates here who love their jobs, who know that Walmart is a great opportunity,” she said.
Walmart says it pays an average full-time hourly wage of $12.92, but does not say how much its approximately 600,000 part-time workers make. The company recently announced 30,000 part-time employees will lose their health benefits next year as more employees began using it after the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act. Target and Home Depot announced similar cuts earlier this year.
The $10.29 median hourly wage earned by retail sales workers is well below the $16.87 national average for all occupations, and lower than even the $11.80 an hour for workers with less than a high school diploma.
It’s was third year in a row of Black Friday demonstrations. Events were planned at 1,600 Walmart locations across the country.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.