November 2, 2012

Richmond Walmart Workers Walk Off the Job

As Walmart Supercenter Holds Grand Re-Opening, Workers and Community Protest Attempts to Silence and Retaliate against Workers

Richmond, CaliforniaOn the heels of first-ever strikes by Walmart workers across the country, workers at the Walmart Supercenter in Richmond walked off the job this morning as the store held its grand re-opening.  Joined by community leaders who have been calling for changes at Walmart, workers are on strike in protest of the attempts to silence and retaliate against workers.  At the Richmond store, Walmart workers have been working hard to help the store reach today’s grand re-opening date all while facing illegal intimidation from a store manager, including racist remarks and threats of physical violence.

“We will not be silenced by Walmart for standing up for respect and against harassment, intimidation and retaliation,” said Mario Hammod, a worker at the Richmond Walmart.   Hammod is one of thousands of members of the national worker-led Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) that has been calling for changes at the company.  “In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez, I am taking a stand against Walmart’s illegal bullying tactics and practicing my right to peacefully hold a sit-in.  We want to be able to celebrate the store’s re-opening, but we cannot continue to work under these conditions of retaliation.”

In an expression of the building frustration that Walmart has not only ignored workers calls for change in Richmond and across the country, but actually retaliated against workers who do speak out, national leaders from civil rights, immigrant rights and women’s rights communities, religious institutions, unions and community leaders have committed to join striking workers in a wide range of non-violent activities on and leading up to Black Friday, including rallies, flash mobs, direct action and other efforts to inform customers about the illegal actions that Walmart has been taking against its workers.

“We cannot stand by while Walmart retaliates against workers who are standing up for a better future for their families,” said Rev. Phillip Lawson, Co-Founder of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

Rev. Lawson, along with other supporters and community groups across the country, has been calling for change through the Unified Call to Change Walmart. “Racist and threatening comments from Walmart will not be tolerated here in Richmond or anywhere.  Walmart should be creating good jobs, not threatening workers and turning its backs on the hard-working people that made this ribbon-cutting possible.”

Walmart workers in Richmond, CA on strike

The group protested outside the Supercenter with signs reading, “Stand Up, Live Better, Stop Retaliation” and “Stop Trying to Silence Us.” This comes just weeks after Walmart workers walked off the job in more than a dozen states, including stores in the East and South Bay. At the same time, workers went on strike at Walmart’s largest distribution center outside of Chicago, IL and were joined by hundreds of clergy and community supporters, some of who were arrested by riot police during the peaceful protest. And earlier this fall, workers in Walmart-controlled warehouses in Southern California went on a 15-day strike that included a six-day, 50-mile pilgrimage for safe jobs.

Walmart Associates at Richmond have been calling on management to end the retaliations against workers who speak out against harassment and poor working conditions, as well take home pay so low that many Associates are forced to rely on public programs to support their families and understaffing that is keeping workers from receiving sufficient hours and is also hurting customer service. As frontline Walmart workers face such hardships, the company is raking in almost $16 billion a year in profits, executives made more than $10 million each in compensation last year.  Meanwhile, the Walton Family – heirs to the Walmart fortune – is the richest family in the country with more wealth than the bottom 42% of American families combined.

Energy around the calls for Walmart to change its treatment of workers and communities has been building.  In just one year, OUR Walmart, the unique workers’ organization founded by Walmart Associates, has grown from a group of 100 Walmart workers to an army of thousands of Associates in hundreds of stores across 43 states. Together, OUR Walmart members have been leading the way in calling for an end to double standards that are hurting workers, communities and our economy.

The alleged Mexican bribery scandal, uncovered by the New York Times, has shined a light on the failure of internal controls within Walmart that extend to significant breaches of compliance in stores and along the company’s supply chain.  The company is facing yet another gender discrimination lawsuit on behalf of 100,000 women in California and in Tennessee.  In the company’s warehousing system, in which Walmart has continually denied responsibility for the working conditions for tens of thousands of people who work for warehouses where they move billions of dollars of goods, workers are facing rampant wage theft and health and safety violations so extreme that they have led to an unprecedented $600,000 in fines.   The Department of Labor fined a Walmart seafood supplier for wage and hour violations, and Human Rights Watch has spoken out about the failures of controls in regulating suppliers overseas, including a seafood supplier in Thailand where trafficking and debt bondage were cited.

Financial analysts are also joining the call for Walmart to create better checks and balances, transparency and accountability that will protect workers and communities and strengthen the company.  At the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Bentonville, OUR Walmart member Jackie Goebel brought a stadium full of shareholders to their feet applauding her call for an end to the short staffing that’s hurting workers and customer service.  A resolution proposed by Associate-shareholders to rein in executive pay received unprecedented support, and major pension funds that voted their shares against Walmart CEO and members of the board this June amounting to a ten-fold increase, and overall 1 in 3 shares not held by the Walton family against the company’s leadership.

These widespread problems have also thwarted Walmart’s plans for growth, particularly in urban markets.  Calling the company a “bad actor,” New York City mayoral candidates have all been outspoken in their opposition to Walmart entering the city without addressing labor and community relations’ problems.  This month, the city’s largest developer announced an agreement with a union-grocery store at a site that Walmart had hoped would be its first location in New York. In Los Angeles, mayoral candidates are refusing to accept campaign donations from the deep pockets of Walmart, and in Boston, Walmart was forced to suspend its expansion into the city after facing significant community opposition.