Thousands of protesters gathered yesterday at Wal-Marts throughout the country. They targeted our largest retailer on the busiest shopping day of the year to make a point: there are not enough hours in the week for many Americans to earn a living wage at the low wages paid by many companies. Wal-mart earned about $17 billion in profits last year, yet the average Wal-Mart employee requires about $2,000/year in public assistance. Taxpayers subsidize Wal-Mart’s payroll, because they are not paying workers a living wage.
Yes, the minimum wage needs to be raised. But, that is going to take time in the current political climate. In the meantime, consumers should support businesses that pay their employees decent wages. Companies like Trader Joe’s, Costco, and Quicktrip have won recognition by paying higher than industry averages. They have proven that paying a living wage can be a profitable strategy, because there is less turnover and better performance when employees are paid and treated well.
Wages will rise when more businesses realize that paying a living wage is good for business. And, more businesses will get that message when consumers spend their money at stores and restaurants that that treat their employees fairly. We have Fair Trade certifications for coffee and chocolate. Why not a “Fair Wage” certification for businesses? The cost of a drive-through lunch wouldn’t be that much higher if the folks who prepared were paid a few bucks an hour more than a typical McDonald’s employee. In Connecticut, the Wal-Mart protesters focused on a store in Avon because, according to one of the organizers, “this is a fairly wealthy area of the state, surrounded by wealthy towns, and these are a lot of people that have financial choice to shop somewhere else.”
Many consumers do have a financial choice on where we shop It would be a great help if we had better information so that we could meaningfully exercise that choice. Fair Wage Certification would help consumers separate the Costcos from the Wal-Marts.