Ky. Voices: On Black Friday, support workers seeking reforms

November 22, 2012 

Every day when I wake up and start my morning routine, I think about the things that I am most grateful for. I have a beautiful and loving family along with loyal friends. I have my youth and good health. I have a job that I am proud and excited to be a part of.

Whenever I'm meeting new people and the infamous question arrives, "So what do you do?" I am happy to tell them with my head held high that I work in retail for a small locally owned business in town called Disc Replay and am happy to be a part of a small company that has so much respect for me and every one of my nine fellow employees.

I feel that whenever that question arrives, everyone should be able to answer it proudly. However, it seems that throughout the past decade, employees of Wal-Mart have not been able to do that.

More and more in my shopping experiences at Wal-Mart, I am noticing an atmosphere of hostility. It seems that the discontent that the workers feel makes its way into the customer environment and creates an uncomfortable encounter.

Who among us has not made a grocery run on a weekend, only to see that two of the 20 lanes are open with lines stretching back into the aisles? Put yourself in the position of the cashier: you've seen hours cut, pay stay low for years, and once again you find yourself in a busy store full of impatient customers.

Most Wal-Mart employees are not paid a wage high enough for them to live on. There are numerous accounts of employees having to borrow money from friends and family to eat or pay bills. Wal-Mart, as the world's largest private sector employer, has the most number of employees receiving government benefits. It knows and relies on this as a way to keep wages down and keep from bringing part-time employees onto full-time status.

The company wants you and me, as taxpayers, to cover its employees costs instead of taking pride in their workers and investing in their benefits.

All businesses look for ways to maximize profits, but the Walton family goes way too far: as heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, they collectively have more wealth than the combined bottom 40 percent of the nation's families. As their wealth has grown since 2007, American workers' incomes have steadily declined.

This already is enough to make any employee aggravated and dissatisfied, but like a misbehaving child, any voicing of unionizing or speaking out against the company is silenced immediately by a dramatic cut to work hours (as drastic as 35 hours per week to 8) or illegal termination.

A brave group of employees named "OUR Wal-Mart" are making a stand for better working conditions. I believe if we stand with them, Wal-Mart might once again become an American success story instead of a national embarrassment.

On Black Friday, many Wal-Mart employees around the nation plan to strike and put an end to the disrespect they face in their work environment every day.

Many strikers face retaliation when they return to work. I believe this can be prevented if Wal-Mart's customer base shows solidarity with OUR Wal-Mart's movement and puts an end to the blackest of holidays.

We, as a society, need to put to bed our misplaced ideals of greed, competition and aggression. In recent years, customers and employees have been killed in Black Friday shopping madness throughout the retail industry.

This year, instead of standing in line for hours on end to buy a gift that will surely end up in the garbage one day, please help support these workers.

Stand with them, talk to them, take pictures with these proud Americans and tell your friends and family that they have the opportunity to give the greatest gift of all this holiday season, the gift of respect.

Because no one should ever be without hope when answering the question, "So, what do you do?"

Kevin Riggs of Lexington owns a non-profit that offers music education.

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