UCSB labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, the author of a recent book on Wal-Mart, will discuss the retail giant’s impact on American economics today in a symbolically chosen empty retail space in Goleta.
Professor Lichtenstein’s lecture, “The ‘Big Box’ Phenomenon: Wal-Mart and the Future of American Business,” will highlight Wal-Mart’s relationship with the U.S. economic recession, the environment, the new political administration and its own employees. Lichtenstein will also delve into the subject matter of his newest book, The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business. The talk will begin at 5:30 p.m. at 5668 Calle Real in the Calle Real shopping center.
Lichtenstein said the event venue is crucial to the theme of his presentation.
“[It] reflects the economic downturn,” Lichtenstein said. “Wal-Mart is doing okay because people traded down in the recession, [though] specialty stores like Linens N Things and Circuit City went out of business. Wal-Mart is efficient, it pays low wage and it offers low prices.”
One major focus of his lecture will be common Wal-Mart employee grievances. According to Lichtenstein, Wal-Mart has been known to force employees to quit by assigning them only night shifts – effectively preventing those employees from receiving unemployment benefits when they resign because of their exhausting hours.
“[One of the] main reasons people quit is because of scheduling,” Lichtenstein said. “Wal-Mart has a 34-hour work week. Managers can ask an employee to stay two or three or four extra hours [without overtime pay].”
In addition, Lichtenstein said, the company’s rigid work scheduling poses a problem for students who need to work around their course schedules, despite the fact that students constitute a significant portion of the conglomerate’s work force.
“[It is] one of the biggest employers of college students,” Lichtenstein said. “[Wal-Mart is] militant on scheduling.”
Lichtenstein’s discussion will also examine Wal-Mart’s political gambles, he said. According to Lichtenstein, the company has been “Obama-pleasing” its stores this year. He also said the company’s recent environmental campaign, which boasts Wal-Mart’s sustainable practices, may be more of a public relations construct than a humanitarian effort.
“[It can demand] recyclable material, no chemicals and the supplier has to eat the cost,” Lichtenstein said. “Wal-Mart is now pushing environmental costs.”
Tickets are $10 for History Associates and $12 for non-members. For advanced registration, call (805) 893-2991.