UPDATE: Protests aimed at disrupting Black Friday sales events at Walmart stores around the country began yesterday, Nov. 15th, with walk-outs at a number of stores and the promise of more actions in the lead-up to what is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. Employees at six Seattle area Walmart stores walked off the job yesterday, protesting what they say is low pay, too few hours and retaliation by managers against workers who speak out. Go here for more.
Wednesday morning, November 14th, workers at a Mira Loma, California warehouse operated by a Walmart contractor walked off the job, protesting working conditions and reprisals aimed at those trying to report unsafe equipment and practices. This walkout came a day earlier than planned, after management at the facility launched an additional round of reprisals on Tuesday. According to an in-depth report at the Nation Magazine:
Thursday’s strike will be the latest in an unprecedented wave of work stoppages throughout the retail giant’s US supply chain. It follows strikes by seafood workers in June, by warehouse workers in September, and by 160 retail workers in twelve states last month. It comes a week before Black Friday, the post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza that workers have pledged—barring concessions from the company—will bring their biggest disruptions yet.
“Hopefully it will make a dent in their production…” said Raymond Castillo, “and it gets their attention, that we’re not playing around.” Castillo and other Mira Loma workers struck in September, and voted Sunday to do it again on Thursday. According to Castillo, workers started organizing because of unsafe and unsanitary conditions: crooked ramps caused serious injuries; workers’ drinking water came from a hose. The organizing brought retaliation, which inspired a strike, which drew more punishment. “Since we’ve all been retaliated against,” said Castillo, “it was a pretty easy decision for all of us to go back on strike.”
On paper, Castillo and his co-workers are employed by a Walmart subcontractor, Warestaff. But because Walmart is the beneficiary of all of his work, and the boss of his boss’ boss, Castillo says his conditions are all Walmart’s fault. Walmart does not agree. ButWisconsin Walmart store worker Jackie Goebel does: “All of us that work for Walmart, either on the retail end of it, or on the warehouse end of it, have the same issues.”
Walmart, the world’s largest private sector employer, has been entirely union-free in the United States since its founding in Arkansasfifty years ago. Walmart’s cost-cutting and just-in-time logistics have revolutionized its industries—even for its unionized competitors. That’s made it an irresistible target for US unions, which have launched a series of campaigns against the company over the past two decades. But until last month, Walmart had never seen workers at multiple US stores go on strike.
That changed October 4, when workers struck at nine southern California stores for one day; a two-day, twelve-state strike followed on October 9. While that ended with an announcement that employees would return to work to mobilize coworkers for Black Friday, the past few weeks haven’t been entirely strike-free.
This month has already seen a walkout at an Ennis, Texas, Walmart, and a sit-in and strike during the grand reopening of a store inRichmond, California. One of the Richmond strikers, Semetra Lee, said workers there were galvanized by retaliation and disrespect. When one worker tied a rope around his waist in an effort to pull a heavy object, said Lee, “our supervisor said to him, ‘Well, if you left it up to me, I would put it around your neck.”
This first appeared as part of Doug Porter’s The Starting Line column at San Diego Free Press.