Walmart and the Grinch Who Stole Thanksgiving

by Anna Lappé for Civil Eats


Today, as we dig into our Thanksgiving leftovers–for us, that’s pumpkin pudding and my mother-in-laws famous nutloaf–we’ll be thinking about the Walmart workers around the country who are bravely stepping away from their jobs to bring attention to the paltry pay and poor working conditions by the country’s largest private employer.


While the Walton family heirs control more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of us, the company itself pays its workers so poorly many must rely on food stamps and government assistance just to get by.


To bring to life the stories of workers struggling to get by on Walmart wages, Making Change at Walmart–the organization working to convince the company it can’t thrive while so many of its workers struggle–has been sharing stories like the one below.


John Paul Ashton: Scraping By on Less than $25,000

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 Organizing United for Respect at Walmart (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,” he continued. “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.”


Making Change at Walmart is a campaign challenging Walmart to help rebuild our economy and strengthen working families. Anchored by the United Food & Commercial Workers, it’s a coalition of Walmart associates, union members, small business owners, religious leaders, community organizations, women’s advocacy groups, multi-ethnic coalitions, elected officials and ordinary citizens who believe that changing Walmart is vital for the future of our country.


Today, this Black Friday, Walmart workers and community supporters will be standing up for decent pay at Walmart. Come out to support Walmart workers at a Walmart store near you. Click here to find the protest closest to you.

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