Organizations that represent New York City's retail workers are less than impressed with Walmart's pledge to hire 100,000 recent veterans over five years, an announcement made Tuesday morning at the Javits Center in Manhattan.
"They need a full-time job with health insurance and paid time off, paid sick days and opportunities to advance," said Carrie Gleason, executive director of the Retail Action Project. "There's no reason why Walmart can't provide that, but that's not currently the kinds of jobs that they're offering."
Walmart's 1.4 million American workers make it the nation's largest employer. While the company has stores in suburban New Jersey and Long Island, the New York City Council has so far voted to keep the retailer out of the five boroughs on the grounds that it would erode small businesses. Walmart has argued that New Yorkers are missing out on its low prices, a position supported by Mayor Bloomberg.
In a keynote address at the National Retail Federation's annual conference Tuesday, president and CEO of Walmart U.S. Bill Simon recalled how doughboys returning from World War I and G.I.s returning from World World II created economic booms in the 1920s and 1950s.
"Today after 10 years of war, there's a new group of men and women ready to help write the next chapter of American prosperity," Simon told the crowd.
Under the new policy, starting on Memorial Day Walmart will offer jobs to any veteran honorably discharged from the military if he or she applies within 12 months of the end of his or her service. Most of the jobs will be in Walmart's stores and clubs, while others will be in distribution centers or the home office. Pay, hours and benefits would depend on the applicant and position, Simon said.
Throughout the speech, he stressed that Walmart and the rest of the retail sector is a meritocracy where workers can move up and eventually earn as much as a firefighter, an accountant, even a doctor.
But workers' rights groups argue that the retail industry relies on a pool of part-time workers with low wages and no benefits who very rarely get promoted.
"The business model that's emerging out of the retail industry is not one of good, full-time, permanent jobs," said Bettina Damiani, project director of the group Good Jobs New York.