Walmart Warehouse Workers Striking; Many More Planned for Black Friday

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Workers in a Walmart-contracted warehouse in Mira Loma, CA went on strike yesterday morning, calling attention to poor working conditions and retaliation from the company against labor-related complaints from workers. Today, workers from six stores in the Seattle area did the same. These strikes follow a handful of others in California and Chicago in September.

The last six months have brought an unprecedented number of strikes throughout Walmart’s U.S. supply chain, intended to pressure the retailer to boost wages and improve benefits, two areas of major controversy for the company and the subject of a 2005 documentary on the subject.

But Walmart’s problems don’t end there. Besides a class action lawsuit filed by female Walmart employees in California in October — with many more expected to come in the next six months — the retail giant is facing potential walkouts at 1,000 stores nationwide on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year for many retailers.

Plans for the walkout began to formalize as a result of a recent announcement by Walmart (followed by other retailers) that most of its stores will open at 8 p.m. on Thursday, the day of Thanksgiving, to kick off the Black Friday event this year. This means workers have to be at stores at least a couple of hours in advance, challenging a long-standing U.S. tradition of keeping stores closed on Thanksgiving to give all employees treasured time off. Black Friday, the “official” start to the Christmas shopping season, has led to stampedes and at least one death. Retailers, looking to grab market share, have been opening stores earlier and earlier every year, but this is the earliest kickoff to the sale ever.

The Black Friday protest is being organized by OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart, two union-backed groups, plus Corporate Action Network, a watchdog organization. The organizations are mobilizing Walmart employees through social media, canvassing, and in-store recruitment. The Making Change at Wal-Mart group on Facebook has more than 27,000 followers.

Sara Gilbert, a manager who was striking in Seattle yesterday, told reporters on a conference call on Thursday: “I work full-time for one of the richest companies in the world, and my kids get state health insurance and are on food stamps,” as reported by BusinessWeek this morning.

In 2013, Walmart, the largest private employer in the U.S., plans to scale back its contributions to workers’ health-care premiums – prices are expected to rise between 8 and 36 percent. Walmart is already accused of squeezing many employees into part-time positions in order to make them ineligible for healthcare benefits alltogether.

With fulltime workers, Walmart has a record of denying overtime by illegally deducting hours from employee’s timesheets or forcing them to work off the clock. In 2008, the company settled lawsuits across the country that claimed it forced employees to work off the clock, agreeing to pay workers up to $640 million for violations.

“This is really the beginning of a tipping point where workers in many aspects of Walmart’s company—whether warehouses or stores—are starting to understand that they do have a voice,” Dan Schlademan, director of the United Food and Commercial Workers union’s “Making Change at Wal-Mart” campaign told The Huffington Post in October. “If I’m Walmart, I’m afraid of that.”

In the same article, he said, “All of this is a new beginning for the reality of Walmart and the reality of retailers. You can’t change standards anywhere else until you change Walmart.”

Stay tuned for more coverage of the Walmart strikes through the Thanksgiving holiday.

[Image source: Making Change at Wal-Mart]

Lonnie Shekhtman

Lonnie Shekhtman is a Massachusetts-based writer covering sustainable business, food systems, social enterprises and impact investing. Stay in touch by following Lonnie on Twitter: @kuurlyq.

17 responses

  1. u know whatever happened to being able to spend time with your families for holidays ? Why dont retailers just open the next day a little earlier , or have their sales after midnight or later after thanksgiving . I dont think it is right to rush people thru their holiday dinner or postpone their dinner ,just so there can be money made , spending time with family is getting smaller .

  2. Amazing. This is a company with no unions (officially). Unions (and striking) can be both good and bad. Look at Hostess – the union just killed the golden goose. But in this case I’m absolutely thrilled. Walmart has had this coming for a looooooooong time.

  3. This is actually pretty significant. Although Walmart has made great strides in terms of their environmental footprint, their longstanding disdain for paying decent wages is finally catching up with them.

    I’d go so far as to say this is the beginning of the end for the low prices at all costs model. Look for Walmart to start calling for universal socialized healthcare soon! Or at least look for things to get shaken up all next week.

  4. Jesus, god. The workers are striking back. Bakers put Hostess out of commission. So only 12 states have joined the strike. It would need to last more than a single day, possibly into next year for Wal-Mart to sink.

  5. Black Friday is what it is. It should start on Friday, Not on thanksgiving. Let the family be together for a gathering with out having to think of work. And it also ruins it for those who like to go shopping on Friday.

  6. Walmart is successful because millions shop there lured by the ultra low prices. It gives consumers cost savings especially in lean times. But their success comes at the cost of its employees. How they make their profits:
    1. Low wages for employees (i personally know one employee who has been there 12 years and makes barely ver $12/hour… after 12 years.
    2. While they have al-a-carte benefits plans, and do offer them to part-timers (after 12 months of service), the cost of the plan takes a chunk out of take-home pay.. leaving most of their staff at the poverty level.. on food stamps… way to go Walmart for using government aid to fund profits (being sarcastic here).
    3. They promote from within… but it has nothing to do with the employees ability to lead… it has to do with whether or not they are friends with the manager.
    4. Employees are required to do the work of 3… Walmart has been known to use “phantom employees” for shifts to save on labor costs and hide the fact that they understaff. For example: 3 employees scheduled for a given shift for a department… but 2 of those employees are listed as “to be hired”.. They don’t physically exist, but on paper they are scheduled. Only 1 person is filling the role. Squeezing employee labor. Also on a typical day employee call-ins could be at 30% of the staff, leaving a greater shortage. It brings to question the quality of the staff.. but then again, what’s the motivation of employees to go to work to be treated like crap for little pay. I know several people that have worked at Walmart for part-time school jobs and even full-time.. and many times they’d come home crying due to the brutality of treatment… but they stayed because something was better than nothing and Walmart is always hiring. Ever wonder why they are always hiring? High turn over… people leave because working there is not worth their sanity. In addition, having Walmart on your resume doesn’t bode well for future jobs because other employers already hold a stigma of Walmart worker quality..
    5. Extreme demands from suppliers. If you don’t play by Walmart rules.. you don’t get your products on their shelf. While this may seem like good business, it also cuts into the profit margins of suppliers.. Its a catch-22. Suppliers give in, and accept lower margins because having your product in Walmart, keeps suppliers operations running on sheer quantity demanded by Walmart. But other retailers feel the pinch of price competition from Walmart. Some suppliers have voluntarily withdrawn their products from Walmart in retaliation and in support of other retailers efforts to compete.

    Bottom line: It is every consumer who shops at Walmart that is supporting and feeding Walmart profits. Consumers can help by boycotting. Find other places to shop. Many family owned retailers and fresh food/grocery markets offer similar prices.. You just have to find them. Support your local farmers and mom&pop shops.

  7. Stupid workers. They are such greedy pigs asking for reasonable wages
    and benefits. Just because these warehouse workers, drivers, cashiers,
    greeters, etc. are the backbone that supports the multi-billion dollar
    money machine that just happens to erode local businesses and vacuums
    money from our cities and small towns to corporate bank accounts, and
    India and China, doesn’t mean they deserve ANYTHING MORE. I mean they’ll
    probably go out of business like Hostess even though their balance
    sheet reflects that’s not even close to a logical argument. Full time
    store employees ones make anywhere from 10 to 15K a year, that’s enough
    for such stupid and simple jobs they do. The CEO and execs gets bonuses
    as high as 22mil and are shareholders, but they deserve it! What are
    they suppose to take 20 mil instead of 22 because someone’s kids got
    sick!? It’s not their fault the kids sick. These Obama voting workers
    are dumb and will never get anywhere in life, so who cares about them
    not being able to afford things and have help when there’s medical
    issues and care needed in their families. What is this France!!!? We’re
    not communists and socialists! Corporations are always right and their
    profits are what matters!!! GO America!!! Best Country ever!!!

    And to everyone that says the workers don’t have to work there! I
    TOTALLY agree!! They should just go get another job for more money and
    better benefits. Why are they so lazy and stupid that they don’t think
    to do that? Or just to go school and be the CEO, then they’ll probably
    see how stupid they’re acting, I mean college is only like 25K a year,
    so they could just ask their parents for some money.

  8. “….Sara Gilbert, a manager who was striking in Seattle yesterday, told reporters on a conference call on Thursday: “I work full-time for one of the richest companies in the world, and my kids get state health insurance and are on food stamps,” ….”

    Reading this quote above, what shocks me is not that the workers are striking but rather that no one on society finds these conditions odd before now. How can you have a full time job at profitable company and still earn so little that the state is forced to intervene for you kid to have 3 square meals a day? Basically this says Walmat is getting rich with govt subsidising their workforce that is otherwise on near-slave wages.

    You cant build a society under these conditions. You can destroy one cerrtainly, but you cant build like this.

  9. I understand that everyone has a desire to be able to afford to take care of their family and have a brighter future and that is great. I think that the workers at Walmart need to realized just what their issue is, they are in an unskilled labor position. No matter where you go when you have a position like that, requiring no real training or skill, you will never make that much in that position. If they want more money and better benefits then I would suggest that they seek to better themselves and get better employment. I was in the same position with a crap job with poor benefits and no real direction. I got educated and changed my position in life for myself. I did not strike and ask for hand me outs or anything of that matter. I simply change my position in life. My hopes go out to the people that are striking that they will take the time to change their lives in a more productive manner instead of risk their jobs for a demonstration that may not work the way that they want it to.

  10. Be careful walmart slaves or the little you have may be yanked from you and given to poor immigrants pouring in. CIS released a new study showing that since 2009 67% of all new job growth has gone to foreign born immigrant workers both legal (mostly legal) and some illegal too.

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