Walmart Workers: This Is Why We're Striking And Making Black Friday Threat



Two years ago, William (far left), Greg and Charlene Fletcher were the first three people at their store in Duarte, Calif., to sign up when OUR Walmart, a labor organization created by the United Food and Commercial Workers, came to town. Last week, they were among the dozens of Walmart workers in Southern California to walk off their jobs in the first ever retail worker strike in the chain's 50-year history.

On Tuesday, 88 workers at 28 Walmarts in 12 different cities joined them on strike; and on Wednesday, a couple hundred Walmart associates convened for a demonstration at the chain's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. Walmart organizers say their goal is to build momentum over the coming weeks for a planned massive walkout on Black Friday -- the biggest shopping day of the year. This isn't a strike in the usual sense; employees will be going back to work in the interim, because most of them need the money, and it's likely that this will be a one-day event for the majority of participants. And since Walmart workers aren't unionized, there is no contract to negotiate.

The leaders say their strike aims to end retaliation against Walmart employees who complain about working conditions or attempt to organize. Asked what Walmart would have to offer up before the Black Friday deadline, Daniel Schlademan, the director of the Making Change at Walmart campaign that's organizing the strike, said it could include reinstating the people who were "illegally fired," giving back hours to employees who had them taken away, and clarifying to management "people's right to free speech."

In response, Walmart has blamed the unions for whipping up discontent. "These strikes are an attempt by the unions to further their own political and financial agendas," Walmart spokesmen David Tovar told The Huffington Post.



More: Walmart Strike: Too Many Disgruntled Workers To Ignore



While recent strikes at two Walmart warehouses in South California and Elwood, Ill., ended successfully, with Walmart agreeing to end retaliation, there is no guarantee of that happening with a much larger strike, in the name of the 1.4 million retail workers directly employed by Walmart.

Most Walmart employees can't afford to strike for any extended period of time either, and Greg, Charlene and William will be back at work in the lead up to Black Friday. "Walmart doesn't pay us enough to give us any kind of savings," William explains. "I'm sure it's by design."

In times of such high unemployment, the employer holds the cards; in the past year, applying for a job at some Walmart stores has been as competitive as a place at Harvard. Given the risks, why are these Walmart workers willing to join this strike? What exactly do they hope to gain? And how many will be willing to join them?

On Wednesday, when AOL Jobs caught up with them, they were at the demonstration at Walmart's Bentonville headquarters.

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The Back Story

Greg, Sharlene, and Greg's brother William joined the first day of striking at the Pico Rivera store in California last week. All three of them have worked at Walmart for years, earning from $9.40 an hour (Charlene, in sales) to $10.70 an hour (Greg, in electronics). Greg and Charlene share a one-bedroom apartment with their two children.

On good weeks, they work 32 hours, and while they're entitled to enroll in the company's health insurance, they pass because it would eat up a third of their pay checks -- $440 a month per person. (Only Greg and Charlene's youngest child, a baby, is insured through a California state program.)

Why They Joined The Cause

"I joined because I understood what it meant to be intimidated by our management, and unfairly written up for something so bogus," says Charlene, who claims she was verbally abused by a manager, and chastised by four managers at once to purposefully intimidate her.

Greg and William say they both joined after they were retaliated against. They were working on the loading dock, and they say the load just kept increasing. Greg and William both complained, but the management didn't let up.

William's knee -- which had been operated on when he was 13 -- suffered severe aggravation, and Greg tore some of the connecting issue in his spine. In response, they claim management tried to cut their hours and dock their pay -- in Greg's case down to 10 hours a week, $8 an hour. William and Greg challenged that and won.

When OUR Walmart organizers showed up, they were ready to join. "This is exactly what we've been looking for," William thought. "This is exactly what we need." Says Charlene: "It's going to be a long, long fight. But it's one we're willing to go through."

More: Walmart Greeters Will No Longer Greet At The Door

What Changes They Want Walmart To Make

Charlene, Greg, and William hope the strike simply makes the public more aware of how Walmart treats its employees. "They always talk about priding themselves on their relationships with customers, but who do those customers have a relationship with?" says William. "They take pride in certain qualities, but those are the qualities in their associates, the same associates they're turning around and backstabbing."

These employees care deeply about retaliation, which prevents employees from going to management, or lawyers, or unions, or even each other about the other issues they face. "The freedom to speak out without retaliation," is Charlene's most central goal. "That is our right."

But Greg, Charlene, and William hope the strike can bring attention to those underlying issues too, and force Walmart to respond to them. "I would like them to see them invest in their workers," says Greg. "Giving hours, giving training, properly staffing the stores."

He would also love to see pay hikes across the board. "There's no reason why, at a company as big and as profitable as Walmart, so many people are relying on state aid for support."

William says affordable health care is high on his list.

How Their Managers Reacted To The Strike

"They seemed like they don't know what to do," William says. The first morning of the strike, William claims he was out there with several others, in their "OUR Walmart" shirts, waiting for their ride, and the managers called the police on them. "We know they're afraid of us," he says.

Why Not Just Quit?

Charlene says she tried looking for other jobs. "And of course, no luck. They're on a hiring freeze," she says. "What I've come to realize is that Walmart is dominating the workforce. Other people can't afford to keep up, so they're not really hiring."

"There really aren't any other jobs available," explains William. "But even more than that, Walmart effects the entire market. Any job I leave Walmart for is going to be the same job." William dreams of becoming a social worker, but says he's struggled to keep the classes up given the demands Walmart places on his schedule. In the last two to three years of going to school on-and-off, he's only completed two semesters.


Why They Think Their Fight Will Be Successful

"People keep coming up to me and telling me they're amazed by it," Greg says. "I think it's going to be enormous."

"There are enough people who are tired of it," he adds. "No amount of fear in the world can stop a person who's had enough."





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Claire Gordon

Staff Writer

Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.

Follow Claire on Twitter. Email Claire at claire.gordon@teamaol.com. Add Claire to your Google+ circles.

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saxc1

I COME FROM A WORKING CLASS FAMILY AND I AM A CAPITALIST AT HEART, BUT i AM NOT A HEARTLESS CAPITALIST. WALMART CLAIMS IT HAS THE RIGHT TO PAY EMPLOYEES WHAT IT WANTS TO PAY AND CHARGE CUSTOMERS WHAT IT WANTS TO CHARGE. WHAT'S WRONG WITH THAT$ THAT IS OUR SYSTEM. CUSTOMERS LIKE LOWER PRICES AND WALMART MAKES A NICE PROFIT. IN FACT, FROM WHAT IS REPORTED IN THE MEDIA, MEMBERS OF THE WALTON FAMILY ARE AMONG THE WEALTHIEST PEOPLE IN THE UNITED STATES AND THE WORLD. THAT'S WONDERFUL FOR THEM - THEY EARNED IT, BUT THEY EARNED IT ON THE BACKS OF THEIR EMPLOYEES WHO WORK AT A LEVEL CLOSE TO POVERTY. THE YOUNG MAN QUOTED IN THE ARTICLE WHO IS HAPPY TO GET $9.00 AN HOUR IS JUST WHAT WALMART NEEDS, BUT CAN HE RAISE A FAMILY ON THAT, EVEN IN HIS STATE? WHAT KIND OF FUTURE WILL HE HAVE? I READ AN ARTICLE RECENTLY THAT COMPARES WALMART AND COSTCO. COSTCO PAYS SUBSTANTIALLY MORE IN WAGES AND BENEFITS; THE QUALITY OF ITS MERCHANDISE IS HIGH, AND ITS PRICES ARE ALSO LOW. PEOPLE I KNOW WHO WORK THERE ARE WELL TREATED LIKE PROFESSIONALS AND THEY RESPOND IN KIND. WHAT THE WALTONS ARE DOING IS LEGAL, BUT I DO NOT THINK IT IS MORAL OR GOOD FOR OUR COUNTRY. I DO NOT KNOW ANYONE WHO HATES COSTCO, BUT THERE ARE OBVIOUSLY A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO HATE AND FEAR WALMART. IF YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT WORKING PEOLES, EVEN IF YOU ARE ONE YOURSELF, CONSIDER HOW HARD MANY COMMUNITIES TRY TO KEEP WALMART OUT BECAUSE OF ITS EFFECT ON LOCAL MERCHANTS WHO FEAR BEING FORCED OUT OF BUSINESS. WHEN WILL WE LEARN THAT UNRESTRAINED CAPITALISM IS NOT A BLESSING TO OUR COUNTRY? MORE AND MORE MONEY IN THE HANDS OF A POWERFUL FEW WHO USE THEIR MONEY TO GAIN POLITICAL POWER, SUCH AS THE WALTONS AND THE KOCH BROTHERS ARE NOT OUR FRIENDS. DESPITE WHAT GORDON GECKO SAID ON SCREEN, GREED IS NOT GOOD. AND NEITHER IS IT A WAY TO TREAT EACH OTHER. .

July 12 2013 at 8:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lakotawmn1

Well, all I have to say ids if the people that work at WalMart win, They had better pick up their speed at the checkout and dress appropriately. One morning I went in to WalMart to pick up a few things. When I reached the register the cashier was wearing frickin pink sponge rollers in her hair! I was like..What the hell!

July 08 2013 at 7:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cliff

You Sexy MOFO WAKE UP

November 30 2012 at 7:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cliff

sconcreteguy the dental may only be $3.00 but look at the bigger picture. Keep in mind I do not like unions either but when I can get medical coverage through my wife for $150.00 less per month at a company that is a dot on a map next to Wal-Mart then what are they doing for me. I have worked at Wal-Mart for almost 8 years and the concerns of thoes who where striking are very very real. I made more money ( $15.25 / hour ) for a company in 1972 after working for them only just over 1 year than I do for Wal - Mart after almost 8. Where is the great pay. Why are they not in the top 20 companys for treatment of employees ? Because intimadation is their game and they use all the time. They cut bennifits and hours, short hand shifts and expect 2 times the production from their people. Their products are cheeper because more than 90% of the junk is made in china or some other overseas company. I would rather pay a little more and by quality made here, with regulations on how it is made, than by second rate junk from Wal-Mart

November 30 2012 at 7:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ewan72403

If you don't want to work for Walmart, then don't do it. End of story. What do they expect to be paid? They have no skills that any teenager doesn't have. So why are their jobs supposed to pay more than any teenager would earn, namely minimum wage?

November 21 2012 at 5:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ewan72403's comment
Lakotawmn1

ewan72403, You have made a good point. If people want better wages they need to have a better education. . Working at WalMart is a low end job. Now days even a High School Diploma won't get you a decent job unless it is in a factory. Today, you have to have at least two years of college or work in the trades.

July 08 2013 at 8:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sconcreteguy

This whole thing is very confusing. When I've talked to Walmart employees myself, they don't understand why some employees are doing this. They've told me that they have great health and dental insurance at a lot lower cost than most other companies. They told me they only pay $3 a month for dental coverage. As far as the wages go, they are pretty competitive with other stores. So i really don't understand what some employees are complaining about. I do believe that this union is really stirring the pot and getting employees all worked up. It would mean quite a bit of money for them, if they get their union in Walmarts. Do these people realize how much of their paychecks would then go to the union out of each check? Unions are dying in this country and they're doing and saying anything it takes to hold on. I believe they are the problem. If these employees would do their homework and compare what they are getting to other companies, I think they'd back off. Us as consumers, would lose a lot if they do end up going union also. Higher prices plain and simple. Then where do you go to save money on everything? Tell the union to back off. Handle it by yourselves. Do you really understand what happens when the union comes in to businesses? You better find out before these guys take the extra money you think you're going to make!

November 21 2012 at 1:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sconcreteguy's comment
Lakotawmn1

I believe that you are right about the Unions. One of the reasons America has lost a lot of jobs overseas is because the Unions became greedy and now companies had an alternative. The Union could no longer threaten them.

July 08 2013 at 8:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Phil Collins

Walmart truely the Armpit of discount stores !

October 15 2012 at 7:27 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
toddisit

I hope the workers succeed in making the changes or unionizing. Wal Mart is sizable and needs to do better if they are the world's biggest employer.

October 15 2012 at 6:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
amishgiant

Yes, Comrades, we must support the workers in the struggle against the materialistic bourgeoisie by not bying cheap chinese made goods, made by forced labor of the chnese proletariet. Boycott Walmart .

October 15 2012 at 4:39 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
You Sexy MoFo

It's a private business that makes a lot of money so automatically people believe they need to be taken care of. Life is not always people, but you choose your paths to the best degree possible. As for unions, dont forget that they place astronomical dues on the corporations which only benefit them and not the employees. Future opportunities, benefits, and raises become smaller and smaller as union fatcats get more and more.

Striking is a dumb way to say your not smart enough to organize in large numbers, correctly, and discretely.

October 15 2012 at 4:29 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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