Frustrated Walmart associates say they are planning 1,000 "protest actions" for Black Friday in at least five major cities. Making Change at Walmart campaign, the union-backed association organizing the strikes, also said that the strikes will spread over the coming week, culminating on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year.
Strikes have already begun at scattered Walmart stores, the first time there have been worker strikes in the company's 50-year history. It began with a day-long walkout in Southern California, but quickly rippled out to 28 Walmart stores in 12 different cities. Workers at contracted Walmart warehouses in Southern California went on strike yesterday, and this morning, 30 associates from six Walmart stores in Seattle walked out, according to Sarah Gilbert, one of the striking workers.
Organizers have been aggressively recruiting Walmart workers across the country to walk out the day after Thanksgiving, and so far associates in Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Los Angeles, Milwaulkee, and D.C. will be taking part, Making Change's director Dan Schlademan says. There will also be work stoppages at Walmarts across Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Minnesota, he said.
A former Walmart employee claimed to be a victim of this intimidation on Wednesday, when he visited his old Orlando, Fl. store to talk about the upcoming strike and was handcuffed. He told the Nation that Walmart managers purposely misled the police so that he was detained for 20 minutes in the store.
Associates involved in the campaign also accuse the world's largest retailer of paying sales employees poverty wages, and restricting their hours, forcing many to depend on food stamps and Medicare.
"It's a successful company that profits $16 billion a year, that can afford to pay its executives $10 million," says Gilbert, one of the striking Seattle workers, "while I can't afford to support my family on $16,000 a year."
[UPDATE November 16]: In a statement, Walmart called the protest plans "just another exaggerated publicity campaign aimed at generating headlines to mislead our customers and associates." The company added that its "confident" its customers will have a great experience on Black Friday, an event the chain has been planning for almost a year.
Walmart also said the tactics of the campaign were "unlawful" and "orchestrated" by the United Food & Commercial Workers.
Making Change at Walmart is backed by the United Food & Commercial Workers, which purports to represent 1.3 million workers in the U.S. and Canada.
Organizers wouldn't say how many of Walmart's 1.4 million U.S. employees are expected to take part on Black Friday, but they claim more workers are calling everyday, sharing their plans to strike. But the website for the Corporate Action Network, a networking tool for fighting corporate abuses, lists protests in 19 cities, including Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, San Diego, and Houston, organized by Making Change at Walmart or its allies.
The protest actions will range from traditional striking, consumer education, and flash mobs, Schlademan said. "I think it's going to be a very creative day," he hinted.
No individual stores have been mentioned either, for fear of Walmart intimidating those workers, according to Schlademan. But event details for some of the protests are available once a person RSVPs online.
All associates who walk off the job will lose a day's wages, a particularly painful cost for the many Walmart employees living paycheck-to-paycheck. The average Walmart sales associate earns $8.83 an hour, according to Glassdoor.com. If this associate works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, their annual salary would be $18,400.
"It's a major sacrifice to try to get our point across, and that's pretty much how serious we are," says Coby Harris, a Walmart associate in Dallas.
Other workers said there were real concerns that Walmart might retaliate against those who choose to strike, but that it was worth the risk. "It's the one chance we can get to just stand up and say something," said Charlene Fletcher, an associate at a Duarte, Calif., Walmart, before breaking down into quiet sobs, "and make a difference." (Charlene is pictured above with her husband and husband's brother.)
The organization says it has no illusions that a single day will fundamentally change Walmart policy. And Schlademan expects strikes and protests to persist long after this holiday season. "This is something that will continue this year and next year," he said, "until Walmart recognizes people's rights to free speech and free association."
AOL Jobs will be hosting a panel discussion on the upcoming Walmart strike. Tune in live Tuesday, Nov. 20 at 12.30 p.m. EST on our Google+ page, and ask questions and share your thoughts!
Panelists include Dan Schlademan, director of Making Change at Walmart; striking Walmart workers; business journalist Anthony Bianco; and Matt Patterson of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
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