Most Americans associate the end of November with two things: turkey and sales. While many were seasoning their bird the night before Thanksgiving, others were busy making signs — placards and posters for a highly publicized picket line.
Walmart workers around the country threatened to strike on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.
This November, the world’s largest retailer started the shopping season early, shelling out deals the evening of Thanksgiving. The change in schedule is one reason why some chose to strike, but it’s not the overall cause.
Employees at Walmart have been speaking out against the store for months, demanding better salaries.
“Retails Hidden Potential: How Raising Wages Would Benefit Workers, the Industry and the Overall Economy,” is a study by Demos policy analyst, Catherine Ruetshlin. It says that raising wages for full-time retail workers to $25,000 per year could result in improving the lives of more than 1.5 million workers currently hovering above the poverty line.
Walmart paid its top six executives $59 million in compensation in the last fiscal year. The Walton family, who control 48% of the company, have a combined family fortune estimated at over $102 billion.
Hourly pay at Walmart starts at $8.81 and wage caps prevent some employees from gaining a fair raise.
Poor working conditions have also been a cause for complaints, along with inadequate health care benefits. Employees are striking for what they believe are basic worker’s rights.
The Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) is a non-union group made up of 5,000 members that receives support from the United Food Commercial Workers Union. Last month, members organized strikes and protests in cities across the country, including Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Orlando, Seattle, and the Bay area.
OUR Walmart’s past efforts managed to raise the number of hours employees need to qualify for health benefits. But inconsistent scheduling prevents many from working enough hours to meet the requirements.
Striking seems to have helped some aspects of the job, some claim it’s also caused animosity against employees. Workers have filed complaints against Walmart to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) claiming strikers have been retaliated against and some have lost their jobs.
Complaints against Walmart isn’t a new thing, but it is the first time that Walmart has responded by requesting an injunction through the NLRB against union-backed workers. Some stores have also made it a point to tell employees why it’s not in their best interest to go on strike.
Josh Eidelson, a contributing writer for The Nation told HuffPost Live “they’re paying workers to sit in and be lectured to why they shouldn’t participate,” he said. “(Employees) were told by a manager reading from a script, if they participate on Black Friday it’s going to hurt their bonuses because it’s going to turn away business.”
Workers’ threats received a lot of media attention, but Walmart’s Ashley Hardie, Manager of Media Relations said Walmart wasn’t worried. “These so called protests involve a handful of associates at a handful of stores. In fact most of the protesters don’t even work for Walmart,” she said. “They are union organizers and union members. We are laser focused on serving customers on Black Friday and we are preparing to have our best Black Friday ever.”
Organizers say the Walmart strike hit 100 cities on the eve and day of Black Friday. At Paramount, CA. about 1,500 people participated in the protest.
But other cities, such as those in Martin County, Florida did not receive the turnout OUR Walmart may have desired. After visiting Walmarts on Thursday and Friday in Martin County, no striker was in sight and the store was flooded by shoppers looking for deals on toys and electronics.
David Tovar, Vice President of Corporate Communications said, “The number of protests being reported by the UFCW are grossly exaggerated. It was proven last night – and again today – that the OUR Walmart group doesn’t speak for the 1.3 million Walmart associates. We had our best Black Friday ever.”
In a press release sent out Friday morning, Walmart reported that, “the retailer saw larger crowds than last year,” and had already sold 1.3 million televisions, 1.3 million dolls, 1.8 million towels and 250,000 bicycles.
OUR Walmart’s efforts did not put a dent on the retailer’s Black Friday sales, but it did bring attention to what some feel are unfair working conditions at the store. This was the first attempt to organize nationwide protests and surely it won’t be the last.
This youtube clip shows business as usual on Thursday night for the Black Friday sales: