This week, workers affiliated with OUR Walmart, the group that orchestrated strikes on Black Friday, is gathering about 100 members for a cross-country bus ride to headquarters for its latest action. The bus, which they have dubbed the “Ride for Respect,” plans to arrive on June 2 to stage a protest at the annual shareholder meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas on June 7. Workers will come from various cities, including the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Washington, Miami, and a dozen others, as Businessweek reports.
A Walmart spokesperson told Businessweek, “The Union and its subsidiary, ‘Our Walmart,’ is comprised of a few number of people, most of whom aren’t even Walmart associates and don’t represent the views of our associates. This latest publicity stunt by the unions to generate attention for their fleeting cause won’t impact the festivities [of the shareholder meeting].”
But Walmart has long been known for an anti-union climate, going back to when Sam Walton opposed labor rights when he opened his first store in 1962. That climate may have intensified as workers organized with OUR Walmart, according to allegations in a new report from American Rights At Work. Based on accounts from workers, the report alleges that the company has fired or disciplined workers, altered their wages or benefits, given them more difficult assignments, interrogated and surveilled workers, and used other tactics against those who organized with OUR Walmart. The document compiles the stories of workers who describe retaliation:
- Angela Williamson had been working at a Walmart in Pensacola, Florida for a year when she became an outspoken member of OUR Walmart. As a mother of three on a Walmart wage…[s]he also spoke out about Walmart scheduling practices which made it impossible for associates to count on a consistent income. Williamson was ostensibly terminated for taking too many sick days, even though a manager had approved the absences for both her own illness and for her to care for an ill grandmother.
- Alex Rivera worked at Walmart for four years in the inventory control department. On July 20, 2012, he and other OUR Walmart members distributed leaflets outside his store. When Rivera went back to work the next day he was called into the office by a manager who told him that Walmart does not tolerate that kind of action and that he was violating company policy, even though he was off the clock. Management also prohibited him from handing out literature in front of the store and told him that he could only do so at the outskirts of the parking lot. Weeks later, Rivera distributed literature to co-workers at a Subway restaurant inside the Walmart. This time, the store management disciplined and threatened to fire him.
- [W]hen [Alan] Forrest [who passed away in March 2013] advocated for a co-worker, a manager warned him not to “stick his nose” into others’ business. The manager told Forrest that he was not allowed to complain about working conditions, hours or wages to other employees or to speak to other workers about OUR Walmart while working.
There have been other allegations of illegal labor retaliation at the retail behemoth, including telling workers who ask about forming unions they could lose benefits.
The workers who show up at the shareholder meeting will be asking for full-time work for those who want it and a minimum yearly salary of $25,000, Businessweek reports. When it first began organizing strikes, OUR Walmart presented a “Declaration of Respect” calling for a minimum wage of $13 an hour, predictable work schedules, affordable health care, and wages and benefits high enough that workers don’t have to turn to government assistance. Walmart says the average hourly wage for full-time workers is $12.40, but an IBISWorld report put that figure at $8.81. Walmart workers are also more likely to rely on government benefits, as in California, where employees’ families use 40 percent more publicly funded healthcare and 38 percent more public assistance programs than the average employee at a large retail company.
Some of these labor practices may be hurting more than just the workers, though. Recent reports show that its reductions in workforce have led to challenges in keeping shelves stocked. This has upset many of its customers, leading to a slight decline in sales. On May 16, the company reported that same-store sales fell 1.4 percent, “the first drop after six straight gains,” Bloomberg reports. Earnings per share also missed analyst expectations. In response to empty shelves, the company has proposed tying manager and executive pay to performance at keeping shelves full and has asked an outside auditor to use neon green dots to alert workers to which items to focus on restocking.
Walmart workers also went on strike on Tuesday in Miami, Massachusetts, and the Bay Area, Josh Eidelson reports. These will be the first “prolonged strikes” in the company’s history and will last until the shareholder meeting on June 7. At least 100 workers pledged to join the strikes.