Three Puerto Rico Sam’s Clubs (Walmart-owned membership stores) suddenly closed on Thursday, and some early reports attributed the closings to the continued effects of Hurricane Maria.
In fact, Walmart closed 63 Sam’s Club stores across the nation. Many workers left their shifts Wednesday and returned to work the next day only to find the doors locked. Walmart, which is expecting to save about $2 billion a year under the new tax laws, had just announced its intention to give workers a $1.00 per hour pay hike in 2019 when it closed the stores. There was no advance announcement of the Sam’s Club closings. An estimated 9,400 Sam’s Club workers lost their jobs.
Walmart is the largest private employer in Puerto Rico. Sam’s Club is also an important source of affordable bottled water, still needed for safe drinking water in Puerto Rico.
Members in the affected towns went to Twitter to ask whether their membership fees would be refunded. There were also many critical messages juxtaposing the raises and the layoffs. Messages about Sam’s Club closings in Puerto Rico were particularly bitter. “Walmart is closing 3 of 10 Sam’s Clubs in Puerto Rico. It is like kicking a man when he is down. 30% closed with people losing jobs.
#Walmart #SamsClub #PuertoRico #WallStreet,” said one tweet.
The closed stores:
- Barceloneta, 1145 Carr 2, Bo Florida Afuera
- Bayamon, Carr 830
- Humacao, Carr 3 Km 82 Bo Junquitos
Some of the 63 stores will be re-opened as distribution centers, presumably saving some jobs. Walmart has also said that laid off workers can request transfers.
It is clear that the Puerto Rico store closings were not a direct response to the hurricanes or to the slow recovery response. They are part of a larger strategy. However, it is likely that the uncertainty of Puerto Rico’s recovery was one of the factors considered when Walmart’s corporate office decided whether to keep the stores open or not. Unstable electricity, questionable drinking water, and impassable roads inevitably make Puerto Rico a less desirable business location. The economy, already in dire straits before the hurricanes, has been affected by healthcare issues and increased outmigration as well as infrastructure problems since the hurricane season.
Other Sam’s Club closings have taken place in Texas, Illinois, and Florida, as well as in other States including New York and Alaska.