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.
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.