File this one under: ‘not buying it’. This week it was reported that five Walmart locations across the US are closing for up to six months due to “plumbing problems“. Some 2,200 employees were fired in the process. Most were notified only hours earlier.
The big box retailer is notorious for running mainstreet American mom-and-pops out of business by operating their massive warehouse-sized stores at a financial loss for years after opening. Once surrounding local competition goes out of business, Walmart jacks their prices back up. Where the hell else in a small town is everyone supposed to shop now?
Walmart is also infamous for lying about their knowledge of working conditions in the Southeast Asian sweatshops they profit from. Just two years ago, a Bangladesh factory that supplies Walmart collapsed, killing some 1,100 workers. Walmart pretended to have no connection to the conditions that lead to this tragedy, until documents proved otherwise.
The invisible hand of the free market: Bangladesh
I mention this not to illustrate that Walmart has suddenly taken a vested interest in the structural integrity of its own stores, but to instead show how shrewdly regarded are the lives of their own workforce. That Walmart lied about their role in the Bangladesh tragedy harms their credibility when citing multiple, months-long plumbing operations as reason to close several stores.
Walmart is also known to close shops for another purpose: to bust any active or potential union organizing.
When shared on social media, Walmart’s pipe story didn’t convince many.
— spike (@tall_guy007) April 14, 2015
Via Strong Towns
CNN quoted a Walmart manager losing her job, who speculated the closing was actually over protests for fair wages her fellow workers had been active in. According to ABC News, no permits for major plumbing work had been filed at any of the five locations. A Walmart plumber familiar with one of the closing stores was quoted in Consumerist, “Even if they had to replace the whole sewer line, it wouldn’t take six months to replace a whole sewer line in that store.”
Walmart delivered a half-hearted press release that mentioned their “difficult decision” and likely hardships their unemployed workers would now face (only slightly worse than still being employed by Walmart).
It’s a little startling that so many Walmart workers and customers immediately suspect the retail giant of dishonesty, yet are mostly powerless against the whims of the Walton family. Any meager concessions Walmart makes are pure public relations. Punishment against their workers will soon follow.
Is the plumbing stunt legit? Not likely. With this sudden media exposure, Walmart will certainly do something that looks like plumbing work for the cameras, and reopen ahead of schedule, just long enough to make a statement to their workers to stop agitating if they don’t want to be laid off again.
Then again, maybe this will all back fire on Walmart. The largest low-wage labor rally in US history just happened this week, too. While not traditional union activity, the organizing of low-wage workers is uniting people who never would have taken to the streets just years ago.
Already, workers at one shuttered Walmart are meeting to discuss how they will retaliate for losing their jobs. Some were reported being willing to protest as soon as this Monday, to demand Walmart guarantee them transfers and reinstatements to continue working and providing for their families.