Walmart, Papa Johns, & Hostess: Can capitalists afford to pay workers more? (video)


Working-011-sm72by Pamela Powers Hannley

Except for a few bumps in the road– like the crash of worldwide financial markets and the colapse of the housing industry– capitalists have had a great run in the past decade.

Profits are at record levels. Wages are down– except for CEO pay, which averaged $9.6 million/year in 2011. The Supreme Court says corporations are people with the right of free speech and the right to buy elections. Humans are desperate for work worldwide.

And thanks to multinational expansion, the demise of manufacturing, and a barrage of attacks on unions, major US corporations can pick and choose workers from a worldwide buffet of skills and salaries.

So, if the capitalists are doing so well, why are they being so stingy with their workers? Find out after the jump.

Three US corporations– Papa John's Pizza, Hostess Foods, and Walmart– have been featured in the news lately for corporate stinginess.

Whiny Papa

Papa John's Pizza CEO John Schnatter has been whining loudly about providing healthcare insurance for his employees under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A Mitt Romney supporter, Schnatter was hoping his boy would win the election, so he could continue to deny his employees basic health insurance.

Now that President Obama has won and the ACA will move forward, Schnatter says the ACA will cost $5-8 million annually (or 10-14 cents per pizza) to cover his employees. In true capitalistic form, Papa John wants to charge customers more to cover the cost for the additional employee benefits (which is a tax deduction). Why can't the cost come out of Papa John's $87-million-dollar annual profit

To be fair, Papa John is not the only corporate food giant that is fighting healthcare insurance coverage for their employees. If you support workers' rights– including the right to affordable healthcare– boycott Papa John's Pizza, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Applebees, Hurricane Grill and Wings, and Denney's and Dairy Queen franchises owned by John Metz. There are far better locally owned restaurants in town, anyway. (Hopefully, they are in favor of workers' rights.)

Greedy Workers CEOs

Hostess Brands– makers of Twinkies, Wonder Bread, and other high-sugar junk food products– has been in the news because the company is going out of business. Why? Because those greedy union workers won't take a 32% cut in pay and benefits. [Sarcasm alert.] Despite the company's financial problems, the Hostess CEO got a 300% increase, while others' salaries merely doubled. Of course, Hostess' financial problems don't have anything to do with the hefty raises they gave their top executives or the vulture capitalists that they are beholdin' to. 

I say, good riddens to Hostess. Their brands haven't kept up with the shift to more natural, less processed foods. That's why they're going out of business. Their products are stuck in the Leave It to Beaver era.

Creator of the Wage/Price Death Spiral

Wal-Mart— the world's largest retailer– is being picked on by those nasty unions that driving Hostess out of business. [Sarcasm alert.] To keep their costs down Wal-Mart not only low-balls suppliers; they low-ball their employees. Wal-Mart workers are notoriously under paid, undervalued, and discriminated against. This year for Black Friday (November 23), Wal-Mart workers are saying, "Basta!" What straw broke the camel's back? Requiring Walmart workers to go to work at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. 

Social media as well as mainstream media outlets are covering the pre-event wrangling between unions and Wal-Mart management, who does not like challenges– especially those that may hurt their bottom line. Check out the video on this NBC News story. To counteract the walkout and protests, Wal-Mart has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. From NBC…

WalmartWal-Mart has filed a complaint with a federal agency accusing one of the largest labor unions in the country of unlawfully organizing picket lines, in-store "flash mobs" and other demonstrations in the past six months.

In its complaint Thursday, Wal-Mart said the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and it's subsidiary known as OURWalmart, of trying to force it into collective bargaining even though it is not the official union for Wal-Mart's employees. The UFCW represents over 1 million meat packers and food industry workers.

The complaint comes just days before Wal-Mart workers' plan to stage nationwide walkouts on Black Friday, arguably the biggest holiday shopping day for any U.S. store. Union-backed groups OUR Walmart and Making Change at Wal-Mart, along with a watchdog group Corporate Action Network are calling on the country's largest employer to end what they call retaliation against employees who speak out for better pay, fair schedules and affordable health care.

If you want to support Wal-Mart workers, there is a protest here in Tucson at the Wal-Mart at 1650 W. Valencia. Here's the Facebook event.

Henry Ford Had the Right Idea

So, back to my original question: Can capitalists afford to pay workers more? Hell, yes. Henry Ford had the right idea. From the Huffington Post…

Even Henry Ford knew his arithmetic back in 1914, said Hedrick Smith in a recent New York Timesop-ed, when Ford raised his employees' pay to the "unheard of sum of $5 per day" in 1914. Henry Ford knew that boosting his employees' incomes created more wealth for everyone

"Not only was it a matter of social justice, Ford wrote, but paying high wages was also smart business," said Hedrick. "When wages are low, uncertainty dogs the marketplace and growth is weak. But when pay is high and steady, Ford asserted, business is more secure because workers earn enough to become good customers. They can afford to buy Model Ts."

This incredibly self-evident truth has been lost by the apostles of smaller government, who have not only worked to diminish the role of government, but labor as well with their attacks on collective bargaining and union organizing in general. 

We have the power of the purse. On Black Friday, support Wal-Mart workers and stay home. Going forward, know the policies of the businesses that you support. Do they support unions, a living wage, workers' rights, safe working conditions, affordable healthcare? If you don't know, ask. 

And now for those of you who still shop at Wal-Mart, check out this trailer from Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. It convinced me years ago to never step in their stores again.