We all know that 70% of the economy is dictated by consumer spending. This means shopping, and often eating out. Some people shop at Wal-Mart. A LOT of people. The numbers below are from 2010.
- Every week, more than 176 million customers shop at Wal-Mart's 5,300 stores.
- With $401 billion in revenue, the company is bigger than 160 nations.
- Wal-Mart is China's eighth-largest trading partner, ahead of most countries.
Do they have low prices? Kinda-sorta. The shelf prices are low, as is the quality. There are issues with additives, like cadmium and other deadly substances showing up in their baby, pet and grooming products imported from China. So if your toothpaste is really cheap but it kills you....
Wal-Mart has been successfully sued for the maltreatment of workers. The Pennsylvania settlement was $187 million, and Wal-Mart lost again on appeal. Their warehouse employees (hired via jobbers) have struck this year over working conditions, and a series of walkouts by Wal-Mart employees is planned for Black Friday.
I hope you will consider spending some of your holiday money at Small Business Saturday - being held this coming Saturday, 24 November. This is a way to support your local businesses. Incongruously, it's sponsored by Amex, which has a site that helps you find small businesses in your area. Nonetheless, it's still a good idea.
So you're out shopping and you're hungry and want something to eat. Choices abound, from those same small, local restaurants to the big chains. And here's where we get to the politics of it. Let's start with this list:
- Red Lobster
- Olive Garden
- Longhorn Steakhouse
- Bahama Breeze
- Seasons 52
- The Capital Grille
- Eddie V's
- Yard House
What they all have in common is that they're owned by the Darden Restaurants, Inc., which employs about 185,000 people, of whom approximately 45,000 are full time. They used to provide health insurance for their employees. For the part-timers, it was that crappy insurance where there are annual limits of $10,000 - $25,000, but it was better for full-time employees. No more - now it's a defined contribution program in lieu of a defined benefit program. This is always a situation good for management and bad for workers. They are doing this to "prepare" for Obamacare, after having acquired a waiver for the past couple years to enable them to continue the crappy insurance programs. Their other program to cut wage costs and increase return to investors? Cutting hours: from full-time to part-time. Source. They also steal wages from employees: yes, there's a suit, and it's expanding. This suit involves stealing money from waiters and waitresses, who earn in the neighborhood of $3.00/hour before tips. Think about it - stealing from the low-paid.
But it doesn't stop there. Darden has no franchisees, so their actions affect about 2,000 restaurants across the US. Other chains have both company stores and franchisees, and the latter can make their own decisions. The NYC Applebee's group has announced cuts from full-time to part-time, although this is not a company-wide undertaking. Other franchisees who will be cutting hours belong to the groups of IHOP, McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's....you know the list.
You've certainly heard the Papa John's plan to cut hours AND raise the price of pizza. I truly do not understand the Papa John's thing. I really don't. I get the cut hours and raise prices thing: John Schnatter is a greedy Republican. What I do not understand is why anyone would ever eat pizza from Papa John's. Several years ago, I was at someone's house, and they'd ordered Papa John's pizza. The crust tasted to me like a cross between matzoh and cardboard. As a Native New Yorker, I can tell you, that stuff was NOT pizza. If you want to argue Chicago-style vs. NY-style with me, that's fine, there are points to be made on both sides. But Papa John's isn't pizza.
So my question is this: why would you spend your money at these places? Now, I've spent my share of dollars at a lot of Darden's restaurants, and years ago, I'd been to the Wal-Mart. But not now. In point of fact, I had dinner at Bahama Breeze last Friday night. Some friends had wanted to take me to dinner to celebrate the election, and I'd picked Bahama Breeze. One of the managers came to sit with us for a while (he's new in town, and will need to register to vote -- I swear it never stops.) We talked hours and insurance, and he assured me that everyone at Bahama Breeze had insurance, and that Darden was committed to its employees. That was what made me come home and research. Liar, liar, pants on fire. So no more Peruvian corn cakes for me.
It's an ever-expanding list of people who put profits in front of people. It's actually hard to keep up. A company with no employees has lost its greatest asset. We, as progressives, fight to make sure the government does right by all Americans. It's a belief system. As this whole bad-restaurant thing joins the bad-Wal-Mart thing, it becomes imperative for us, as individuals, to keep our money local, and keep our dollars away from people who do EXACTLY what the GOP wants their minions to do, which is create a huge chasm between the haves and the have nots. We need to stand together.