President and CEO of Walmart US Bill Simon reports on the company’s sustainability goals, March 17, 2011. (Flickr/Walmart Corporate)
New York City—Walmart drew positive press and White House praise this morning for pledging to hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years. The plan, first reported by the The New York Times, was formally announced by Walmart US President Bill Simon in a keynote address at a National Retail Federation conference. It was panned by labor activists, dozens of whom marched through the Jacob Javits convention center lobby following Simon’s speech.
“Sadly,” Simon told the NRF gathering, “too many of those who fought for us abroad now find themselves fighting for a job when they get home.” He called veterans “leaders with discipline” and “a purpose instilled in them by their military training. We need that in our business.” Simon urged the assembled retailers to followed Walmart’s example: “We could be the ones who step up for our heroes just as they stood for us.”
Reached by phone, Tulsa Walmart worker Christopher Bentley Owen was less than impressed. “You’re still subject to all the crap that comes from working for Walmart,” Owen told The Nation. “Extremely low wages, poor benefits and everything else. If that’s the best that’s available for veterans, then there is something wrong.” Owen served in the US navy for two years. He joined the union-backed workers’ group OUR Walmart after being required to attend a meeting in which management read a statement urging workers not to go on strike.
“Beginning on Memorial Day,” Simon pledged this morning, “Walmart will offer a job to any honorably discharged veteran within his or her first twelve months off active duty.” Simon added that “the vets will have to adhere to the same basic hiring criteria that everybody else does,” but he said the company is “going to do our best” to offer jobs at nearby Walmarts to any veterans who are seeking them. Simon told NRF that if enough other retailers make similar commitments, “We could set a goal like slashing the unemployment rate for veterans in half.” He said, “There really isn’t a better group to lead our recovery, and the revitalization of our economy, than our nation’s veterans.”
A Walmart official clarified in an interview with the Times that not all of those jobs would necessarily be full-time positions. Simon’s speech did not make clear what fraction of the newly hired veterans are expected to land full-time jobs, whether the plan involves any increase in Walmart’s overall staffing levels or whether the plan imposes any economic cost on the company. Following an early morning inquiry from The Nation regarding these questions, Walmart e-mailed a statement summarizing Simon’s speech but did not directly address them.