Striking Walmart Workers Add Their Voice to ‘Black Friday’

Demonstrators were arrested by police after protesting outside a Walmart store on Friday Nov. 23, 2012, in Paramount, Calif. Walmart employees and union supporters took part in yesterday’s nationwide demonstration for better pay and benefits A union-backed group called OUR Walmart, which includes former and current workers, staged the demonstrations and walkouts at hundreds of stores on Black Friday, the day when retailers traditionally turn a profit for the year.  Photo courtesy of Associated Press/Nick Ut.

Walmart workers, their outrage fueled by allegations of continuing low wages, erratic work hours, cuts to their benefits and the continuing termination and harassment of workers who have openly voiced criticism of management policies, marched in protest -accompanied by supporters – at stores nationwide Thursday and Friday.

In Paramount, Calif., authorities arrested nine people (including three Walmart employees) on charges of blocking a busy street outside a store there. Later that day, they were cited and released on misdemeanor charges. At its height, the Paramount protest drew approximately 1,000 people.

Before noontime, several hundred demonstrators had already marched into the street, but local police report that almost all returned to the sidewalk following deputies’ orders. Of the the nine marchers that were taken into custody, local police reported to local news agencies that the nine “had planned to be arrested” and therefore offered no resistance.

Walmart store management stated yesterday that about 50 employees participated in the event on Thursday and a “few dozen” took part on Friday. Company spokesman Dan Fogleman stated that the number of Walmart “associates” who missed their shifts during the two days of events was 60 percent lower than last year.

Protesters sat outside the Walmart store on Friday Nov. 23, 2012 in Paramount, Calif. Wal-Mart employees and union supporters took part in yesterday’s nationwide demonstration for better pay and benefits A union-backed group called OUR Walmart, which includes former and current workers, staged the demonstrations and walkouts at hundreds of stores on Black Friday, the day when retailers traditionally turn a profit for the year. Photo courtesy of Associated Press/Nick Ut.

The union group estimated that “hundreds” of employees participated nationwide.

One of those employees who participated was Victoria Martinez, 29, who has worked for Walmart for seven years. She was one of many who marched in front of the store in Paramount on Black Friday.

The Walmart photo department employee stated to the press that she worked her shift on Thanksgiving, but skipped work yesterday to “speak out.” She said the company shows a lack of respect for employees, noting that she faced retaliation by local managers after speaking out about problems during an open discussion sponsored by the head office.

Said Ms. Martinez: “I believe that when I started at this company it was great. They’ve taken away everything that is great.”

In contrast to the previous marches which were organized by the Warehouse Workers United Union, a union-backed group called ‘OUR Walmart’ has accepted responsibility for holding an estimated 1,000 protests in 46 states. The exact number is unclear. Walmart management has refuted that estimate, claiming the figure is exaggerated and that the protests involved few of its own current employees. OUR Walmart, made up of current and former Walmart employees, was formed in 2010 to press the company for better working conditions.

In retaliation last week, the retailer has filed a formal unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. The company said that the demonstrations organized by ‘OUR Walmart’ threatened to disrupt its business and “intimidate our customers and associates.”

For several years now, Walmart has faced intense scrutiny and criticism over its wage and benefit policies and its overall treatment of its workers, especially those employed in its warehouses. The company, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, operates 10,400 stores in 27 countries.

Shirley Pena

About Shirley Pena

A native of Southern California, Shirley Pena began her career as a music journalist over a decade ago, writing for her websites "Stars In My Eyes:the Girlhowdy Website" and "La Raza Rock!" and progressed to creating various fan sites on Yahoo, including the first for New Zealand singer/songwriter Tim Finn. From there, she became a free agent, arranging online interviews for Yahoo fan clubs with various music artists (Andy White, John Crawford, Debora Iyall, John Easdale, etc.). She also lent her support in creating and moderating a number of Yahoo fan clubs for various music artists from the 1990s-today. As a music journalist, Shirley Pena has contributed to a number of magazines (both hard copy and online), among them:Goldmine, American Songwriter, the Fresno Examiner, The Blacklisted Journalist and UK-based Keyboard Player (where she was a principal journalist). A self-confessed "fanatic" of 1960s "British Invasion" bands, Classic Rock and nostalgic "Old Hollywood ", she also keeps her finger on the pulse of current trends in music, with a keen eye for up and coming artists of special merit. Shirley Pena loves Los Angeles, and is thrilled to join the writing staff of The Los Angeles Beat!
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