November 15, 2012
1000-Store Protests Begin with Warehouse Workers from Southern California and Walmart Workers from Seattle and San Leandro Walking Off the Job
National Leaders, Local Activists Commit to Supporting Strikes, Protests and Online Actions
Washington, DC – As Black Friday approaches, Walmart workers and warehouse workers walked off the job Wednesday and Thursday in protest of the company’s attempts to silence workers who speak out for better jobs. Warehouse workers from Southern California walked off the job Wednesday morning; Walmart workers from San Leandro, California walked off the job Wednesday afternoon; and this morning, Walmart workers from Seattle joined them.
This afternoon, Walmart workers from cities across the country announced that these strikes are the first of 1000 protests, including more strikes, rallies and online actions, at Walmart stores leading up to and on Black Friday. Workers announced upcoming strikes and protests in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Washington DC, as well as workers walking off the job in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana and Minnesota. The group held off announcing the specific dates of the protest out of concern that Walmart would use it as an opportunity to try to silence the workers’ voices.
“No matter how hard we work, my husband and I can’t catch up on our bills,” said Charlene Fletcher, an OUR Walmart leader from Duarte, California. Charlene and her husband Greg both work at Walmart. Greg has been there for six years, and Charlene began 2-1/2 years ago. They have two young children, ages 2 and 5. “We just found out that we are both scheduled to work on Thanksgiving Day instead of being home with our kids. It’s heartbreaking to miss the holiday with them, and it’s just one more way that Walmart is showing its disregard for our families. But when our co-workers speak out about problems like these, Walmart turns their schedules upside down, cuts their hours and even fires people. We’re going on strike for an end to Walmart’s attempts to silence its workers.”
The announcement call was hosted by OUR Walmart members: Charlene Fletcher, of Duarte (Los Angeles County), Calif., Sara Gilbert of Seattle, Wash., Colby Harris of Dallas, Tex., and Cayt Lawley in Arkansas. They were joined by David Garcia, a warehouse worker in Southern California, and Dan Schlademan, Director of the Making Change at Walmart campaign.
Walmart workers have been speaking out about the company’s manipulation of hours and benefits, efforts to try to keep people from working full-time and their discrimination against women and people of color, but rather than listening to the concerns facing 1.4 million Walmart workers, Walmart has attempted to silence them. Some workers have also been speaking out about the early start of Black Friday sales – on Thanksgiving Day –which will keep many retail workers from being able to spend the holiday with their families. Watch a video from Walmart workers on why they’re standing up or follow the conversation on Twitter at #WalmartStrikers.
With so many Americans struggling to make ends meet and Walmart taking in $16 billion in profits and compensating its executives $10 million each, workers and community leaders have been calling on Walmart and Chairman Rob Walton to address the wage gap the company is creating. At the same time frontline Walmart workers are facing financial hardships, the Walton Family – heirs to the Walmart fortune – are the richest family in the country with more wealth than the bottom 42% of American families combined.
National leaders, including Dr. Julianne Malveaux and Lyle “Butch” Wing from Rainbow PUSH, joined the call to share their support for the striking workers. Countless civil rights, immigrant rights, women’s rights and religious groups, including Color of Change, National Alliance of Latino, African and Caribbean Communities, Interfaith Worker Justice, and the National Organization of Women, are organizing their members in support of Walmart workers. Online, individuals have been adding support and planning protests on their own, starting new Facebook pages, groups and events. Through the Corporate Action Network, activists are “adopting” stores where they can inform shoppers about the struggles that Walmart workers are facing.
“Walmart’s workers are dedicated to giving 100 percent to the jobs that they do,” said Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of the Center for Community Change. “The company must be as dedicated to its workers as it is to its profit margin.”
In October, OUR Walmart leaders held the first-ever strikes against the mega-retailer. At that time, workers walked off their jobs in more than 12 cities and with the support of national and local leaders, held protests at more than 200 stores. Since then, workers have walked off the job in Richmond, CA and Dallas, TX, and support for OUR Walmart, the associate organization calling for change, has continued to grow.
Striking warehouse workers, who move billions of dollars of merchandise for Walmart, joined the call to speak about the retaliation they have experienced for speaking out against unsafe working conditions, including extreme temperatures, broken and unsafe equipment and inadequate access to clean drinking water. The workers from the Inland Empire, outside of Los Angeles, held a 15-day strike that included a six-day, 50-mile pilgrimage for safe jobs in September.
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, and a wage theft class action suit in Chicago. 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 investors 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. Goebel was one of four Associate-shareholders who proposed a resolution calling for the reining in of executive pay. The resolution received unprecedented support from 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.
Making Change at Walmart is a campaign challenging Walmart to help rebuild our economy and strengthen working families. Anchored by the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), we are a coalition of Walmart associates, union members, small business owners, religious leaders, community organizations, women’s advocacy groups, multi-ethnic coalitions, elected officials and ordinary citizens who believe that changing Walmart is vital for the future of our country.