July 24, 2013
As warehouse workers strike, Walmart Board of Directors faces wave of protests online, at work, and at home in reaction to the increased suppression of workers
In response to Walmart’s increased attempts to silence employees who spoke out at the company’s June shareholder meeting about retaliation against those who call for better jobs, this week Walmart associates and their supporters are fighting back with an unprecedented wave of actions on the ground and online. At the same time, warehouse workers in California have gone on strike to protest the extreme intimidation, spying, and retaliation they have experienced since they exposed dangerous and unsafe working conditions at a Walmart-contracted warehouse in Riverside County.
Thousands of people nationwide are taking the calls for an immediate end to the company’s suppression of workers’ basic freedom to speak out for better jobs directly to Walmart Board members online, at their homes, and at their offices.
With their calls for the creation of better jobs at Walmart resonating widely, workers assert that the company feels threatened and has doubled down on its suppression of associates. In the past few weeks alone, Walmart has illegally fired 19 workers and disciplined 40 more for taking part in the legally protected strike. The striking workers were calling on the Board for an end to Walmart’s retaliation against and attempts to silence those who speak out about issues such as the company’s labor mismanagement under CEO Mike Duke’s leadership, which has led to under-staffing and unsafe conditions in stores, warehouses, and at suppliers.
“We fear that every day we go to work could be our last,” said Heidi Baizabal, who has worked at a warehouse in California for five years. “We are followed, watched on camera, forced into individual meetings, and harassed daily. We need Walmart to see what’s happening inside its contracted warehouse. We move Walmart suitcases and we want safe, good jobs.”
“In this country, we believe that when we work hard, we should have the opportunity to get ahead. We believe that everyone has the fundamental right to join together with coworkers to improve their job and to speak out to improve their life,” said Sarita Gupta, Executive Director of American Rights at Work/Jobs with Justice. “Our country’s largest employer should be promoting these values by creating good, steady jobs and careers. Instead, Walmart is creating a reality for American workers that is built on part-time work, few benefits and illegal retaliation for those who speak out for something better.”
This isn’t the first time Walmart has tried to bully workers. According to a white paper recently released by American Rights at Work, Walmart associates who have come together to address concerns about working conditions have increasingly faced harassment, threats, changes to their jobs, and retaliatory discipline—including termination—for speaking out.
Standing up with workers like Barbara Collins, a mother of two who was fired after protesting Walmart’s illegal treatment of workers who speak out about not getting enough hours to support their families, workers picked up the pace this week with protests occurring in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Texas, as well as other states, after previous protests calling on Marissa Mayer at Yahoo meetings last week. Workers plan to continue taking their message directly to Walmart Board of Directors members at their offices, homes, and public events in the coming days and weeks. Demonstrations are also taking place at stores across the country.
“I have been working hard at Walmart to support my family amidst changes to my hours and schedules, increases in the cost of healthcare, and not enough people to keep the shelves stocked,” said Barbara Collins. “We have to have a conversation about the problems with under-staffing and the jobs at Walmart, and we will not stop speaking out even as Walmart illegally threatens and even fires us. Together, we’re going to win back our jobs and make changes at this company.”
Nationally, a growing number of community and elected leaders have joined workers’ call on Walmart to immediately reinstate workers who have faced firings and discipline for striking to protest Walmart’s attempts to silence and retaliate against workers who speak out. Meanwhile, a petition directed at the company and Board members has already received more than 152,000 signatures.
Walmart keeps its associates without enough hours, without healthcare, and struggling to get by on poverty wages. As a result many employees can’t even support their families without relying on government support. As a result, a recent report found that taxpayers pay nearly $1 million to subsidize Walmart’s race-to-the-bottom business model at a single store.
In early June, Walmart workers went on strike nationwide and joined the “Ride for Respect,” a week-long, nationwide caravan to Walmart’s shareholders’ meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas, to call for an end to retaliation against workers and voice the direct impact that Walmart is having on their lives and the economy. The company has responded by cracking down on associates’ right to speak out – even firing some workers.
UFCW and OUR Walmart have the purpose of helping Wal-Mart employees as individuals or groups in their dealings with Wal-Mart over labor rights and standards and their efforts to have Wal-Mart publically commit to adhering to labor rights and standards. UFCW and OUR Walmart have no intent to have Walmart recognize or bargain with UFCW or OUR Walmart as the representative of Walmart employees.