Business

Walmart’s Pledge To Hire More Than 100,000 Veterans Sparks Protests

Protesters stage a demonstration outside the National Retail Federation convention after William Simon, president and CEO of U.S. Wal-Mart Stores Inc spoke at the event on January 15, 2013. (credit John Moore/Getty Images)

Protesters stage a demonstration outside the National Retail Federation convention after William Simon, president and CEO of U.S. Wal-Mart Stores Inc spoke at the event on January 15, 2013. (credit John Moore/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Walmart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer and nation’s largest private employer, is making a pledge to  hire more than 100,000 veterans.

Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart’s U.S. business, announced the plans Tuesday at the annual National Retail Federation convention at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan.

“We know not every veteran wants to work in retail, and that’s okay, but every veteran who does will have a place to go,” Simon said.

The unemployment rate for veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan stood at 10.8 percent in December versus the overall unemployment rate of 7.8 percent.

Walmart projects that it will hire more than 100,000 recently honorably discharged veterans in the next five years. The hiring pledge, which will begin on Memorial Day, covers veterans within 12 months of leaving active duty.

Most of the jobs will be in Walmart‘s stores or its Sam’s club locations. Some will be in the company’s distribution centers.

“We’re going to do our best to place these folks where they’d like to be,” Simon said.

Dave Tovar, a Walmart spokesman, says that the company hasn’t worked out the details but it will “match up the veterans’ experience and qualifications.” Simon, who served in the Navy, said that veterans have “a record of performance under pressure.”

“They’re quick learners, and they’re team players. These are leaders with discipline, training, and a passion for service. There is a seriousness and sense of purpose that the military instills, and we need it today more than ever,” he said.

The announcement was welcome news for some veterans like Keith Williams who said returning home and finding work was harder than he could ever imagine.

“It was almost impossible, I couldn’t get a job to save my life,” Williams told 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg. “Everybody was like, ‘You’re over-qualified, you’re gonna leave us, you’re not gonna stay.’ I’m like, ‘I just need an opportunity.’”

However, the speech drew loud protests outside the convention center from others who believe the nation’s veterans deserve better.

“One cannot make a living working for Walmart,” one protester said. “You are poor working for Walmart.”

“They’re under-employing people,” another protester said. “I don’t think these are jobs that anyone would want, especially veterans, and I don’t think they deserve it. They deserve better jobs.”

“I wouldn’t even recommend my worst enemy to work at a Walmart,” former Walmart worker Walter Arvallo said.

Pedro Saade, a homeless ex-military interrogator, said the 100,000 job pledge is a great sign for he and other veterans struggling to find work, but the 26-year-old is reluctant to work for the retailer.

“[It’s] degrading; the feeling that you did something great and now you’re just working as a cashier,” Saade said.

Veteran Will Medlock said it’s hard finding a job and finds the company’s pledge encouraging, but working for Walmart isn’t what he had in mind.

“Veterans definitely deserve better than that because we protect and serve this country,” Medlock said. “Without us there wouldn’t be no Walmart.”

The company says that it has spoken to the White House about its commitment, and said the First Lady Michelle Obama’s team has already expressed an interest in working with Walmart and with the rest of the business community.

In the next several weeks, the White House will convene the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense and major U.S. employers to encourage businesses to make significant commitments to train and employ American’s returning veterans, according to Simon’s prepared text.

First lady Michelle Obama, who spearheaded a White House drive to encourage businesses to hire veterans, praised Walmart’s announcement, calling it “historic.”

“We all believe that no one who serves our country should have to fight for a job once they return home,” Mrs. Obama said in the statement. “Walmart is setting a groundbreaking example for the private sector to follow.”

Walmart which also operates Sam’s Clubs, employs more than 1.4 million workers in the U.S.

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