For the next five years, every veteran who has recently left the armed forces can get a job with Wal-Mart. The new initiative, announced by Wal-Mart CEO, and former Marine, William Simon promises to hire more than 100,000 vets in the largest hiring commitment for former service members in history.
As the New York Times noted, "the unemployment rate for veterans of the recent wars has remained stubbornly above that for nonveterans, though it has been falling steadily, dropping to just below 10 percent for all of 2012. That was down from 12.1 percent the year before. The year-end unemployment rate for nonveterans was 7.9 percent in 2012." On any given night roughly 68,000 vets are homeless in the United States, and studies have found that vets on average stay homeless longer than nonvets. Clearly, for many thousands of young men and women returning from the America's protracted Middle East battles, finding security and stability is a struggle.
For this reason, praise for Wal-Mart's hiring initiative abounds. Discharged (so long as it's honorably) veterans will have a "place to go," said Simon, whose company is the largest private retailer in the U.S. with over 1.4 million employees. The initiative will place most vets in stores but some in distribution centers too. Simon stressed in his announcement that servicemen and -women are great hires and they are disciplined and follow directions better than the average employee.
If the CEO is right about the type of civilian workers soldiers make, the veterans initiative will certainly be a boon for the giant retailer. In recent months, as Salon has regularly noted, dissent in the ranks of Wal-Mart staff has proliferated. The end of 2012 saw a wave of strikes throughout the Wal-Mart production chain -- from warehouse to shop floor -- over poor, unsafe working conditions and bottom-of-the-barrel pay. For Wal-Mart, compliant workers recently steeped in military discipline with limited employment options no doubt seem an appealing work force.
As Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at U.C. Santa Barbara and a vociferous critic of Wal-Mart's labor practices told the Times, "They like military people because they have a sense of hierarchy and a commitment to the organization they are in ... And that’s important to Wal-Mart.”
The issue is complicated and there's no mutual exclusivity to Wal-Mart offering important employment opportunities to vets in need, while also remaining a consistently exploitative employer. The small hope for labor organizers, of course, is that the newly employed vets will join the growing chorus of workers demanding better pay and working conditions.