U.S. President Barack Obama is hawking green, and American retail workers are seeing red.
Labor advocates are calling on the president to prove his stated commitment to income inequality and climate action by challenging Wal-Mart at a scheduled store appearance in Mountain View, California, on Friday.
The president appeared at the Wal-Mart location to tout the progress his administration has made in energy efficiency, including solar-power commitments from more than 300 companies and state and local governments. But critics are saying the president’s message is lost amid the backdrop of the world’s largest retailer -- long condemned by labor advocates for its low wages and nonunion workplaces, and by environmentalists for its carbon footprint.
A rally was underway Friday morning, organized by the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union and the group OUR Walmart, an advocacy organization for Wal-Mart’s hourly employees. According to some Twitter posts, protesters gathering near the location are being kept away from the building.
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Pam Ramos, who has worked at the Mountain View location for four years, wrote an op-ed at Salon.com, explaining that she brings home $400 every two weeks -- not enough to pay her bills -- and is not given the opportunity to work more than 32 hours per week. “I wanted to tell the president what it’s like working -- and living -- like this,” Ramos wrote.
Ramos also expressed regret that she would not be able say this to the president personally, as the store was shut down hours before the appearance.
According to the White House, the Walmart location was chosen because Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT), headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas, has committed to doubling the number of its solar-energy projects. But environmental groups say that’s little more than a smokescreen of “greenwashing,” a term applied to marketing spin used by companies that gloss over their immense footprint with hollow initiatives that do little environmental good. Last month, the Green Life Online released a report in which it named Walmart “Greenwasher of the Year.”
“Wal-Mart’s own data show that its operations have become vastly more polluting in the last few years, even as the company has touted itself as an environmental leader,” Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said in a statement at the time.
At Friday’s rally, UFCW and OUR Walmart plan to call on the president to challenge Wal-Mart to “reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, support an increase to the minimum wage, and stand up for workers who are struggling to get by on the retailer’s poverty wages.” The groups posted an open letter to the president here.