When Walmart and a Mayor Meet

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a second-term Democrat, kept the city’s NBA team, the Kings, from leaving town. Anaheim and Seattle beckoned this pro sports franchise, without success. A former NBA star player, he now helms the U.S. Conference of Mayors. On June 22 at its yearly meeting, Johnson tapped New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to chair a national task force, Cities of Opportunity, to reduce inequality. This project kicked-off Aug. 10 in the Big Apple.
“The purpose of cities is to lift up residents and build a community and economy that works for everyone,” said Mayor Johnson. “That means having a higher minimum wage, expanding the supply of affordable housing and ensuring every child has access to Pre-K.”

Mayor Johnson’s words are spot-on. The minimum wage has stagnated for decades. Rent inflation is rampant.

The question is how do Mayor Johnson’s words measure up to his deeds, now that he heads the U.S. Conference of Mayors? A brief review of his record on labor rights and public schools is instructive.

Mayor Johnson is a strong supporter of public charter schools. On that note, employees at St. HOPE Public Schools, a public charter school system he launched, are not labor union members.

Rather, they labor at the will of their bosses. Such workers’ services can and do end at a moment’s notice, like the vast bulk of the private-sector U.S. workforce.

Walmart workers, or “associates,” are also at-will employees, who can be and are fired without representation from a labor union that could collectively bargain pay and working conditions with the global retail giant. Just ask Sacramento resident Meiasha “Meme” Bradley, 27.

She alleges Walmart fired her illegally for legally protesting its labor practices, a charge the company denies. While on its payroll, she sought and received taxpayer help for the necessaries of life due to the employer’s insufficient hours and pay.

Bradley alleges the company fired her for legally protesting its labor practices. “Walmart claimed it terminated me after three disciplinary actions,” she said. “Among the three “coachings” (the company’s term for associate discipline), leading up to my firing was an absence management referred to as a ‘no call no show.’

“In reality I was out on a legally protected strike which shouldn’t have counted against my attendance,” Bradley said. That one-day walkout took place last November 23 at the Florin Rd. Walmart and at other company stores throughout the Sacramento area, according to her.

“We took a stand against Walmart’s bullying of associates, retaliating against us for speaking out and voicing our opinions in support of all company employees nationally seeking annual earnings of $25,000 to provide better for our families,” Bradley said of her former employer that reported sales of $473 billion in fiscal year 2014.

Against the backdrop of Mayor Johnson’s rhetoric about raising the minimum wage, he is a public official whose nonprofit groups such as St. HOPE accept dollars from private sources, namely the Walton Family Foundation. The WFF is the charitable arm of the Walmart Inc. retailer.

During his first mayoral term in 2009, Mayor Johnson began an education nonprofit Stand Up for Sacramento Schools, a 501(c)(3). His nonprofit accepted $500,000 between Jan. 19, 2012, and June 5, 2012, from the WFF. This amount represents 0.003% of the WFF’s over $158 million of funding for education reform in 2012.

Michelle Rhee, Mayor Johnson’s wife who until recently led StudentsFirst, an education advocacy 501(c)(3) and a 501(c)(4), that opposes teacher tenure and supports more charter schools, accepted an $8 million donation from the WFF in April 2013, reported Howard Blume of the L.A. Times. Rhee is rebranding herself as Mrs. Johnson, vowing to help her husband win a third term as Sacramento’s mayor.

Walmart’s work force generates the source of the Walton family’s wealth, which boasts the largest familial fortune in the country. According to the Forbes 400 list for 2013, the six descendants of Walmart founder Sam Walton are: Christy Walton (daughter-in-law), $35.4 billion; Jim Walton (son), $33.8 billion; Alice Walton (daughter), $33.5 billion; S. Robson Walton (son), $33.3 billion; Ann Walton Kroenke (niece), $4.7 billion; Nancy Walton Laurie (niece), $4 billion; with a total Walton family wealth of $144.7 billion, equal to 41.5% of the wealth of the bottom 42% of Americans, according to Wisconsin-based Politifact.com, Further, Mayor Johnson lobbies, effectively, for taxpayer dollars to fatten NBA billionaires and millionaires. Sacramento taxpayers are footing the bill for over 50% of the new $477 million downtown arena, the new digs for the Kings and Vivek Ranadive, their billionaire owner, to be repaid with city parking lot revenue bonds.

Mayors of U.S. cities can better represent the 99% of their constituents by avoiding Mayor Johnson’s progressive words about raising the minimum wage while taking money from the Walton Family Foundation to undermine public education and union workers generally. Actions speak louder than words.

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com.

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com