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Walmart Workers Threaten 'Black Friday' Strike

11 Oct, 2012 By: Erik Gruenwedel


On the heels of an Oct. 9 walkout by small numbers of workers at 28 Walmart stores in 12 cities, protest organizers say they plan to strike in greater numbers on Black Friday — the annual post-Thanksgiving sales holiday popularized in part by the retail behemoth.

Indeed, Walmart in 2003 helped expedite consumer demand for DVD with by offering a $39 player on Black Friday. The chain is considered the largest retailer of DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union says its “Making Change At Walmart” campaign is aimed at addressing longstanding complaints of unfair working conditions, low pay and few benefits for more than 1 million non-union employees at Walmart. With more than 1.4 million workers Walmart is the world's largest private sector employer.

That has spawned “OUR Walmart,” an employee-led grassroots organization that is asking the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer to pay workers a living wage, provide affordable health care and greater respect, among other issues. The group says that instead of listening to their grievances Walmart has retaliated against workers and tried to silence them.

Workers at Walmart warehouse and distribution centers in California and Illinois struck their employers during the last two weeks to demand an end to retaliation for speaking out for change in the workplace. 

“The more than a million members of the UFCW across America know the need for real change at Walmart,” Joe Hansen, international president of the UFCW, said in a statement. “We’re incredibly proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these courageous associates who are taking action to demand that Walmart workers can, and should, be able to speak out for real change without fear of retaliation.”

Walmart spokesperson David Tovar said the retailer has systems in place at the store level to hear employee complaints. Tovar said more than half of Walmart’s hourly workers earn at least than $10 an hour. The average among hourly workers is $12.54.

“If you have any kind of issue you should bring it forward to your manager and if it isn't resolved to your satisfaction you can go to the next level of management,” Tovar told The Huffington Post.

Walmart, which reported operating income of $10.2 billion through July 31, continues to dominate the retail market. The company plans to spend more than $6 billion on capital improvements, including 203 new stores, in 2013, according to statements released during the company's Oct. 10 shareholder meeting. Walmart expects to generate $9 billion in online sales in 2013. The heirs to founder Sam Walton rank among the richest people in the United States with a combined wealth reportedly matching 42% of the country’s population.

“I make $8.90 an hour and I've worked at Walmart for three years,” Colby Harris, a 22-year-old Walmart associate, said in a press call announcing the Black Friday strike. “Everyone at my store lives from check to check and borrows money from each other just to make it through the week.”

Harris said nonviolent protests planned for Nov. 23 could include passing out leaflets to consumers asking them if they really want to support a company that treats its employees poorly.

“We will make sure that Black Friday is memorable for them,” he said.

About the Author: Erik Gruenwedel

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