A shocking bit of terrific journalism by Bloomberg Business published this week shows just how far Walmart is willing to go to crush any chance for its employees – called “associates” – to unionize. The piece, titled “How Walmart Keeps an Eye on Its Massive Workforce”, reveals that they hired defense contractor Lockheed Martin to spy on their employees in the lead up to strikes and Black Friday protests and report back what they found:
Lockheed Martin is one of the biggest defense contractors in the world. Although it’s best known for making fighter jets and missile systems, it also has an information technology division that offers cybersecurity and data analytics services. Tucked into that is a little-known operation called LM Wisdom, which has been around since 2011. LM Wisdom is described on Lockheed’s website as a tool “that monitors and analyzes rapidly changing open source intelligence data … [that] has the power to incite organized movements, riots and sway political outcomes.” A brochure depicts yellow tape with “crime scene” on it, an armored SWAT truck, and a word cloud with “MAFIA” in huge type.
Not only that, the contacted the FBI and took other extreme measures to assist in stamping out protests organized by labor groups and the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), as well:
Walmart considered [OUR Walmart] enough of a threat that it hired an intelligence-gathering service from Lockheed Martin, contacted the FBI, staffed up its labor hotline, ranked stores by labor activity, and kept eyes on employees (and activists) prominent in the group. During that time, about 100 workers were actively involved in recruiting for OUR Walmart, but employees (or associates, as they’re called at Walmart) across the company were watched; the briefest conversations were reported to the “home office,” as Walmart calls its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
This intense surveillance and monitoring of their “associates” reveals Walmart’s willingness to use its vast wealth and resources to ensure that their 1.4 million American employees do not organize for better wages, working conditions, and benefits. By keeping wages low, the company makes unprecedented profits – they’ve already made in excess of $16 billion this year – while taxpayers pick up the slack. A 2014 study by Americans for Tax Fairness showed that federal assistance for Walmart employees who aren’t paid a living wage costs American taxpayers as much as $6.2 billion annually:
This $6.2 billion estimate is based on a study prepared by the Democratic Staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce in May 2013. The study estimated the cost to Wisconsin’s taxpayers of Walmart’s low wages and benefits, which often force workers to rely on various public assistance programs. It found that a single Walmart Supercenter cost taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million per year, or between $3,015 and $5,815 on average for each of 300 workers.
This report takes the mid-point of that range ($4,415) and multiplies it by Walmart’s approximately 1.4 million employees in order to estimate the nationwide cost to taxpayers of Walmart employees’ use of public assistance programs. Programs that are included in this estimate include the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Section 8 Housing Program, Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps).
OUR Walmart and other groups are holding protests at Walmart stores across the country tomorrow – Black Friday – to push back against this corporate behemoth’s rapacious exploitation of its labor force. In Michigan, there is one at the Dearborn Walmart at 10 a.m. and they are encouraging as many people as possible to come out to support them. Click the image below for a flyer for the event:
Click image for a printable flyer
You can also sign a petition started by the OUR Walmart Alliance HERE. From the petition:
My name is Cyndi Murray, I’m a mother of 2 and a grandmother, and I’m a 16-year Walmart employee from Laurel, MD.
I’ve been speaking out publicly for better pay at Walmart for the last few years because too many of my co-workers go hungry. We’re calling on Walmart to pay us $15 an hour and offer more full-time work. It’s no secret that Walmart would prefer to pay us less, but my co-workers and I believe that by coming together we can bring change to Walmart.
I was shocked to recently learn that Walmart may have enlisted the FBI Terrorism Task Force to spy on those of us who are speaking out. Walmart also hired a massive defense contractor – Lockheed Martin, to do surveillance on us.
What kind of country do we live in where a giant corporation can enlist the FBI and hire defense contractors to spy on their employees who are doing nothing wrong. We’re calling for decent wages, for food of our families, for our livelihood. Why spy on us?
Instead of fighting us, spying on us and using every deceptive tactic under the sun to protect their giant profits they should join us — pay us decent wages, provide us good hours. Please support our call to hold Walmart accountable. And join our call on our government to end their collaboration with Walmart and instead, stand with us and protect our right to speak out freely without fear of reprisal.
UPDATE: You can see photos from the protest in Dearborn HERE.
[CC image credit: UFCW International Union | Flickr]