Walkouts at the worlds’ larger retailer spread to at least twenty eight stores in twelve states yesterday, with unprecedented protests against company treatment of employees and working conditions expected to continue today at the annual Walmart investor meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Dan Schlademan, director of the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Making Change At Walmart campaign, said job actions took place in Dallas, Seattle, the San Francisco Bay area, Miami, the Washington, D.C., area, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Chicago and Orlando. There were also reports of walkouts in Kentucky, Missouri and Minnesota.
The New York Times has posted an article saying that disgruntled Walmart employees, joined by labor unions and community groups, might stage a combined protest and educational campaign the Friday after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. The workers are protesting company attempts to “silence and retaliate against workers for speaking out for improvements on the job,” according to a United Food and Commercial Workers news release. Walmart workers, who are not unionized, have long complained of low pay and a lack of benefits.
Studies have shown that Walmart workers are more likely than others in the industry to rely on government benefits. In California, for instance, where the strike started, employees’ families use 40 percent more publicly funded healthcare and 38 percent more public assistance programs than the average employee at a large retail company.
In just one year, OUR Walmart, the unique workers’ organization founded by Walmart Associates, has grown from a group of 100 Walmart workers to an army of thousands of Associates in hundreds of stores across 43 states. Over eleven thousand people have signed up on their Facebook page, although there is no way of knowing how many of those are actually company employees.
They are facing off against a company with a long history of actively resisting union efforts. The stock in Walmart is controlled by the six heirs of to founder Sam Walton, who are worth $89.5 billion, or as much as the bottom 41.5 percent of Americans combined.
Lorena Gonzalez Banned From Walmarts
Skirmishes between Walmart and labor groups continued yesterday, as 200 angry protesters showed up at a meeting of investors and analysts earlier today at Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
Here in San Diego local AFL/CIO leader Lorena Gonzalez paid her first visit ever to a Walmart, visiting the College Grove store with a letter for the store manager asking the retailer to improve employee pay and benefits, and require store contractors to pay a living wage.
The store manager refused to even shake hands with Gonzalez, keeping hands in his pockets as she asked him to accept the letter.
He responded with a notice banning Gonzalez from ever setting foot in any Walmart store, and called the police. She later tweeted “PD let me leave letter Told me if I come back Walmart threatens civilian arrest… Then asked me if I wanted to go get a taco”.
Gonzalez’s visit to Walmart was part of a national day of action against the corporation, which has traditionally resisted efforts by its U.S. employees to unionize. Similar actions were taken in Massachusetts, Ohio, Washington and Georgia, among other states.
Gonzales told PBS the actions were being taken is to give workers a voice against one of the largest corporations in the world.
“While traditional unionizing efforts have been tough, this is another way for workers to come together and collectively demand changes at their workplace,” she said.
A Walmart spokesman disputed allegations of mistreatment of workers in an interview with ABC News, claiming that most employees have “repeatedly rejected unionization.
“They seem to recognize that Walmart has some of the best jobs in the retail industry — good pay, affordable benefits and the chance for advancement,” he said.
Activists have called the Arkansas based retailer “the ultimate welfare queen” saying that company policies increase employee reliance on government assistance. They say the company deliberately schedules employees to keep their hours below the threshold required for company benefits eligibility.
Walmart has become the number one driver behind the growing use of food stamps in the United States with as many as 80 percent of workers in Wal-Mart stores using food stamps.
Walmart’s employees rely on $2.66 billion in government help every year, or about $420,000 per store. In state after state, store employees are the top recipients of Medicaid.
Walmart workers’ reliance on public assistance due to substandard wages and benefits has become a form of indirect public subsidy to the company. In effect, Walmart is shifting part of its labor costs onto the public.