Press Release from Making Change at Walmart campaign
Oct. 10, 2012
Workers to Walmart: Stop Retaliation

Walmart Faces First-Ever Strikes in a Dozen Cities

Striking Walmart workers came from around the country to Walmart's headquarters in Arkansas. On top of all flashmobs, protests and confronting executives, they announced that if Walmart doesn't stop its attempts to intimidate workers, the company will see the biggest disruptions yet on Black Friday - the biggest shopping day of the year! Photo courtesy of Making Change at Walmart.

BENTONVILLE, ARK.—On the heels of first-ever strikes by Walmart workers across the country, one hundred Associates traveled to Walmart’s corporate headquarters to call on Walmart to stop trying to silence and retaliate against workers for speaking out for job improvements. Joined by national leaders from civil rights, immigrant rights and women’s rights communities, religious institutions, unions and community leaders, the group announced that their organizations were committed to “reclaiming” Black Friday for Walmart workers and their communities. At the same time, elected officials, community leaders and workers held protests at more than 200 Walmart stores across the country.

The group brought their protest to Walmart CEO, Mike Duke, who was attending the company’s annual investor conference in Rodgers, AR. A week ago, Walmart workers spoke to a similar group of financial analysts about the retaliation and problems with poverty paychecks that are a result of low-wages and inconsistent hours and scheduling.

“Walmart’s efforts to try to silence us is only building support among our co-workers in calling for changes at the store. We will not be silenced, especially on Black Friday when Walmart wants us to cut short the holiday with our families to help the company profit. If Walmart wants workers fully committed to the stores on Black Friday, Walmart needs to do more for us the rest of the days of the year,” Colby Harris, who earns $8.90 an hour after three years working at a Walmart in Lancaster, TX. Harris is one of thousands of members of OUR Walmart , the nationwide Associate organization calling for changes at the company. In just one year, OUR Walmart has grown from an organization of 100 workers to a national organization of thousands of employees from 43 states.

In an expression of the building frustration that Walmart has not only ignored their calls for change, but actually retaliated against workers who do speak out, Walmart workers walked off the job in more than a dozen cities. Workers walked off their jobs in Chicago, Dallas, the DC area, Miami, Orlando, Seattle, and all across California—from Southern California to Sacramento and the Bay area—yesterday and today.

Striking workers and national leaders committed to engaging in a wide range of non-violent activities on 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.

Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League said, “In America, workers should not be forced to go on strike to protect their most basic rights to free speech and to come together with a collective voice. Our city and our country need big profitable corporations like Walmart and billionaires like the Waltons to stop squeezing the middle class to the breaking point.”

Terry O’Neill, President, National Organization of Women, said, “As the largest employer in the country – and the largest employer of women, African American, and Latino workers – Walmart has a huge impact on the finances of workers, families and our entire economy. Walmart must take responsibility for building a better America starting with the jobs in its backyard. NOW Chapters around the country will be mobilizing to educate consumers about the Walmart’s total failure to live up to its own policies about treating women fairly and with respect.”

Pastor Edwin Jones of the Living Faith Baptist Church and International Ministries, said, “We cannot and will not stand by while Wal-Mart tries to silence and retaliate against workers. These workers are Wal-Mart’s greatest assets, being disrespect and disregarded as they speak out for a better future for their families. If our calls continue to be ignored and rebuffed, we will be going to stores with workers on Black Friday to call for change”

Hector Sanchez, Executive Director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement said, “As the largest employer of African Americans, women and Latinos in our country, Walmart, through its low wages, lack of benefits, and discriminatory employment policies, is eroding the foundation that the middle class was built upon. America was built upon the principle that workers had the right to fight for quality, fairness, and dignity in the work place. Walmart’s retaliatory tactics serve only to undermine this fundamental and closely-held principle.”

Walmart workers and community leaders have been calling on Walmart and Chairman Rob Walton to address take home pay so low that 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. The company has not only refused to address these concerns that are affecting 1.4 million Associates across the country, it has attempted to silence those who speak out and has retaliated against workers for raising concerns that would to help the company, workers and the community.

The protest in Bentonville comes a day after Walmart Associates in a dozen cities walked off their jobs in protest against retaliation and a week after workers in Los Angeles held a one-day strike. These were the first-ever strikes against the retail giant. Workers striking at Walmart-controlled warehouses outside of Chicago just won an end to illegal retaliation following a 21-day strike that saw clergy and community supporters arrested by riot police during a peaceful protest. Warehouse workers in Southern California were on a 15-day strike that included a six-day, 50-mile pilgrimage for safe jobs. In advance Wednesday’s investor meeting, OUR Walmart members shared concerns about the scheduling and staffing problems to a room full of financial analysts.

As front line Walmart workers are facing these 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 – are 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.