“We are standing up to live better,” say Walmart’s retail workers, playfully twisting Walmart’s slogan of “live better” into a rallying cry for better conditions and treatment. In a taste of what the nation’s largest retailer can expect on Black Friday, frustrated Walmart workers have again started walking off their jobs to protest their employer’s attempts to silence outspoken workers.
Workers from both the retail and warehouse sectors of Walmart’s supply chain have called for nation-wide protests, strikes and actions on, and leading up to, next Friday — the busiest shopping day of the year. In the past week, wildcat strikes in Dallas, Seattle and the Bay Area saw dozens of retail workers — from multiple store — walk away from their shifts, suggesting that the Black Friday threats are to be taken seriously.
Dan Schlademan, Director of the Making Change at Walmart campaign, said in a nation-wide conference call organized for media on Thursday that Walmart can expect more than 1,000 different protests, including strikes and rallies at Walmart stores between now and Black Friday.
According to organizers working with the Walmart retail workers’ association, OUR Walmart, stores around the country — including, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Washington D.C. and others — can expect workers to go on strike. Specific dates have not been announced yet out of concern to minimize chances for Walmart to preemptively silence workers’ voices.
“We are expecting a wide variety of activity — strikers right in front of their stores, demonstrations, flash mobs, rallies and people working to educate customers — I think it’s going to be a very creative day.” said Schlademan. “Brave strikers are seeing a huge amount of support from community allies.”
As Waging Nonviolence has previously reported, the historic wildcat strikes are invigorating a new form of labor organizing of non-union labor. By drawing on the support of community allies — particularly from religious and student groups — workers are finding it increasingly easier to resist their employer’s abuses.
In addition to joining striking workers at rallies at Walmart stores, supporters are able to donate to Making Change at Walmart to help the striking low-wage workers make up lost wages. In the form of food gift cards, the community support organization Making Change at Walmart is providing concrete ways for others to be in solidarity with Walmart’s workers. Thus far, $25,000 has been raised.
But this kind of grassroots support pales in comparison to the revenue and capital at Walmart’s disposal. Some Walmart executives are making upwards of $10 million a year while full-time retail workers struggle to make ends meet. Sara Gilbert, a customer service manager at a Seattle Walmart, makes only $14,000 a year to support her family.
“I work full time for one of the richest companies in the world and yet my children are on state healthcare and we get subsidized housing,” said Gilbert who joined other OUR Walmart associates in Seattle’s walkout on Thursday. Walmart posted almost $16 billion in profits last year and recently announced changes to employee healthcare premiums that could raise the cost for workers as much as 36 percent.
Also back in the struggle against Walmart are its warehouse workers. On November 14, the Inland Empire, Calif., warehouse workers — who are privately contracted through the logistics company NFI but move 100 percent Walmart goods — resumed their strike due to retaliations against outspoken workers. The workers were part of the 15-day strike in mid-September that re-ignited workers’ efforts to change Walmart’s treatment of its employees.
David Garcia, a warehouse worker from Southern California who took part in the first strike, was recently terminated for speaking out against unsafe working conditions and broken equipment. According to Elizabeth Brennan, an organizer with Warehouse Workers United with whom the NFI workers are affiliated, about three dozen workers have had their hours cut while others have been demoted and suspended in retaliatory efforts from Walmart’s contractor to curb organizing efforts.
“It’s been tough,” said Garcia. “My kids need food, school supplies and an apartment to sleep in at night, but right now it is difficult to provide them these basic things.”
On Thursday, six community supporters were arrested for blocking a major thoroughfare to the Walmart-contracted warehouse. The two dozen striking warehouse workers returned to work on November 16.
The Inland Empire strike, which still demands an end to unsafe working conditions, retaliatory practices and poor wages, comes during a crucial time when much of Walmart’s supply chain is moving into high gear. It remains unclear whether the strikes and walkouts will generate enough pressure to force Walmart to systematically change how it treats its 1.4 million employees, but the Walmart workers movement seems to be spreading and growing.
The Corporate Action Network is hosting online activism for supporters as well as publicizing some of the events planned at Walmart stores for Black Friday. While some activists for workers’ rights and just wages advocate boycotting Walmart and shopping on Black Friday in general, Making Change at Walmart has not called for boycotts but affirms all efforts that support workers’ rights to assemble and speak out.
Charlene Fletcher, a Walmart employee in California plans to go on strike to emphasize her message that Walmart is not listening to its workers. Fletcher and her husband both have to work Thanksgiving Day for Walmart and will miss spending the holiday with their two young children. Complaints have alleged that Walmart’s scheduling practices have made it very difficult for families to spend time with each other on holidays like Thanksgiving when Walmart plans to open its doors to shoppers that evening. Fletcher wants Walmart executives to know that Walmart’s employees are just as important as its customers.
“We are going to make the ultimate sacrifice,” said Fletcher who is also a part of OUR Walmart. “By going on strike on the busiest shopping day of the year, we hope to send a message out to Walmart that we are not a small percentage of workers who are struggling and that we mean business.”