Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A WalMart Shopper in Support of Striking WalMart Employees

I'm a WalMart shopper...

And I will support the striking employees of WalMart on Black Friday...

Their call for increased wages, more and better hours, and better working conditions is right. And I think it is the right thing for them to go on strike. There is a unique balance between our demand for goods and services and the goal of work that recognizes the rights of the worker, including supporting and nurturing family life.

My second real job was working in the kitchen at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. I was about 17 years old. I worked there after school and on weekends after football season. My younger brother, Lyndon, worked part-time, year round.

Not long after I started working there, our supervisor began scheduling us to work nearly every Sunday from 11-7. This was a conflict in the family, because we attended church every Sunday. Shady Grove Baptist Church is a relatively small Baptist church in East Dallas. My grandfather was the pastor and our family played prominent roles in worship service.

My grandfather would have understood if we had missed worship occasionally to work on Sunday. We wouldn't be the only members of the church who worked in a hospital. But in our family, worship wasn't just about presentation, it was a conviction. We worshiped on Sunday because we believed that this is what we were obligated to do...and we loved worship and our church.

After no less of three weeks of this scheduling, my mother went and talked to the head dietitian and explained to her our situation and told her that if working on Sunday from 11-7 was a requirement then we could no longer work there. We could work all day on Saturday and any time we weren't in school. But on Sunday, we could only work from 4:30-7:30.

It was not a long conversation. When it was over, we still had our jobs, and we only worked on Sunday from 4:30-7:30.

We worked Christmases. Thanksgivings. New Year's Days, occasionally on Easter Sunday afternoons.

But we were also teen-agers. There's a huge difference between a wage for part-time student workers and their schedules and those of adults with children. I cannot imagine having to have that type of conversation with my family's livelihood hanging in the balance. Or this job making the difference between whether or not I would have enough to pay rent AND eat that pay period.

These are the choices WalMart workers have to make.

I worked at a department store for a year or two before being called to pastor a church. I worked in the warehouse and sometimes on the floor serving customers. The most I ever made, was $10,000 a year. I remember the last raise I got on that job - about 10-15 cents. An older man, Louie, who was the custodian and who had worked in that department store for more than 10 years. Got a larger raise...and had his hours reduced.

WalMart workers report this as a common occurrence.

There are some who say that this...among many other reasons is why they don't shop at WalMart. Perhaps that's the right thing to do. I'm probably justifying my patronage by saying that 'not' shopping at WalMart, in some way makes them more vulnerable. We all 'benefit' from WalMart's low prices and their influence on the economy. They force small businesses out of business. They also force their remaining competitors to lower their prices. Many of us have 401k's wrapped around the axle of their prosperity.

Here's what I can do...

After meeting with WalMart workers last week and hearing their stories, I can come and pray with them before their protest. That's what they asked of me and other clergy there. I can encourage them.

And I can not shop there Friday.

It may be fair to brand this as an area in which I'm being hypocritical and that's probably fair. But their cause is just. And they need to be supported. You and I can argue how you feel about my inconsistency later. The question now is, how will you support them?

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