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Ear to the Ground

Striking California Wal-Mart Workers Aim to Embarrass Company

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Posted on Nov 6, 2013
Ron Dauphin (CC BY-NC 2.0)

After 50-odd years without coordinated strikes in U.S. Wal-Marts, the chain has seen a series of employee protests organized by the nonunion workers’ group OUR Wal-Mart. Wednesday the wave of demonstrations reached Southern California in a surprise strike riding on the coattails of a successful walk-off in Hialeah, Fla. According to the workers’ group, about 80 Florida employees managed to inspire the retail giant on Oct. 18 to give them full-time schedules when requested as well as 50 cent an hour raises and compensation for time spent protesting. With these huge gains set before them as an example, California Wal-Mart employees in Paramount are walking out Wednesday, while another protest has been scheduled for Thursday in downtown Los Angeles. Workers are not only expecting other employees to show up, but are also hoping customers join them to show their discontent at the poor service being provided due to many stores being understaffed.

The protests, according to Salon’s Josh Eidelson, are “the latest effort to squeeze the retail giant to address workers’ grievances over wages, scheduling, and alleged retaliation.”

Salon:

...OUR Wal-Mart has mounted a series over the past thirteen months. The largest strike came last November on “Black Friday,” when organizers say 400-some walked off the job; the longest lasted over a week and brought workers in Freedom Ride-inspired caravans to the company’s June shareholder meeting. OUR Walmart has promised another major strike for this year’s “Black Friday,” the high-profile shopping day that follows Thanksgiving.

With this week’s protests, OUR Wal-Mart also seeks to amplify attention to a presentation by Wal-Mart’s US CEO stating that over 475,000 Wal-Mart employees make at least $25,000 a year; as I’ve reported, OUR Walmart has framed that statistic as an implicit admission that pay for most of Wal-Mart’s 1.3 million direct US employees falls below $25,000.

Asked about this week’s announced rallies, spokesperson Wal-Mart spokesperson Kory Lundberg e-mailed, “Wal-Mart provides associates with more opportunities for career growth and greater economic security for their families than virtually any other company in America. There are, on average, more than 430 promotions a day within Walmart.” Last month the company announced a blitz of visits by executives to announce internal promotions, an effort highlighting the company’s pledge to promote 25,000 employees in three months. Asked about that pledge, [Paramount, California employee Martha] Sellers told Salon that the people she saw being brought in for better-paying jobs were “friends of friends” of management, not current entry-level workers. “They are providing promotions, yes,” she said, “but to outsiders.”

...“I want Wal-Mart to become the company that everyone will be proud to work there,” said Sellers, “and hold their head up and say, ‘Look what Wal-Mart has done: I can now afford to feed my family…I actually have enough money to put ten dollars aside.’ Not to have to borrow ten dollars from a neighbor just so you can eat.”

Eidelson groups the Wal-Mart protests together with the fast food strikes that took place over the summer as “part of a wave of one-day, non-union ‘minority strikes’ which seek to embarrass corporations and engage co-workers and the public.” According to OUR Wal-Mart strategist Dan Schlademan, shame is exactly what workers are trying to stir in the second-largest corporation in the world. Schlademan points out that the bad publicity about how it treats workers is what “Wal-Mart hates” most of all. And ashamed it should be for regarding its workers as anything less than what they are: key components of the company’s success, but more important, human beings.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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