Black Friday Actions Aim to Roll Back Retaliation At Walmart
November 9, 2012 10:49 am
By: Matthew McDermott
This October, the first strikes in Walmart history happened in Southern California, sparking a wave of small strikes at 28 stores across the nation. Shortly afterwards, 200 associates from worker organizing group OUR Walmart descended upon the Walmart shareholders’ meeting in Bentonville, AK warning that further action would be taken on Black Friday if retaliation against organizer-employees did not end.
Workers fired for speaking out have not been hired back, and OUR Walmart associates report intimidation tactics and reduced hours. Black Friday approaches.
The first strike occurred in Pico Rivera, CA, in which 30 employees walked off the job (without a union contract); sister strikes followed at stores in Dallas, Seattle, the Bay Area, Miami, the D.C. area, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Chicago, Missouri and Orlando, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Minnesota. OUR Walmart, which began with just 100 employees last year, has grown to an organization of 1,000 workers dedicated to changing labor practices from within, according to Dan Schlademan, director of the union-backed Making Change at Walmart (Making Change).
Making Change, which works in tandem with worker-driven OUR Walmart, is a coalition of unions, clergy, and civil, womens’ and immigrant rights organizations that support workers’ fight for respect.
Walmart has attempted to stem further unrest by holding captive-audience meetings for its employees discouraging them from joining OUR Walmart or attempting to unionize. Despite these intimidation tactics, it appears that the dam has broken and further action and activism is inevitable.
The escalated action is thanks in no small part part to the savvy use of social media by OUR Walmart. Cory Parker, a Walmart employee in Mississippi, found out about OUR Walmart via Facebook, where he discovered that the terrible labor practices at his store were a nationwide issue. Parker lost his home earlier this year, and reports that a supervisor at work told him, “Why don’t you go live at a homeless shelter?” in response to his hardship. Parker says that he is now working with his fellow employees to take action on Black Friday.
Maryann Manilov of the online progressive community The Engage Network stated that workers and organizers are attempting to stage the “first, real viral strike.” Speaking on a conference call for bloggers yesterday, Manilov said, “this is what organizing looks like in the age of Occupy.” As evidence, Manilov related the amazing story of workers at a Walmart store in Oklahoma, who walked out of their store when they heard about the October strikes on the Internet, despite their lack of a contact with any larger organizing group.
Some actions have already produced results. Southern California warehouse workers who labor in the Walmart supply chain went on a 50-mile “Walmarch” in September to protest inhumane conditions and intimidation at a crucial distribution hub in the Inland Empire. Elizabeth Brennan, Communications Director at Warehouse Workers United, stated that conditions at the Inland Empire distribution hub have improved, with warehouse operators renting fans and water coolers to assist the workers. A pending inspection by CAL OSHA is expected to confirm the unsafe conditions previously reported by warehouse workers.
In what perhaps can act as a model of effective action, warehouse workers in Elwood, IL staged a 21-day strike in September, which engaged the local labor, activist and religious community and was widely reported online. After three weeks, the striking workers were hired back with full backpay and the company (Roadlink) agreed to end illegal retaliatory action against employees. (The warehouse strikes are slightly complicated as warehouse workers are employed in warehouses operated by Walmart subcontractors.)
As Black Friday approaches, management at Walmart is trying to deter the planned walkouts by offering employees’ valuable coupons in exchange for working on Black Friday. They have also failed to release schedules for the busiest shopping day of the year, which is not typical.
If you would like to support Walmart workers struggling for fair treatment in the run-up to Black Friday, there are several easy ways to get involved:
- Pledge to stand with workers on Black Friday: The Corporate Action Network is gathering information on actions across the country, searchable by zip code.
- Sponsor a Striker: This Making Change/OUR Walmart-run effort will use 100 percent of funds to buy striking workers grocery gift cards to make up for pay lost while on strike.
Image from here