Walmart workers in 15 different cities are planning rallies and pickets on Thursday to protest the retailer’s retaliatory firings of employees who have participated in strikes and sought to organize their coworkers over the past nine months.
The Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), which helped kick off a wave of low-wage worker activism by organizing Walmart strikers on Black Friday of last year, expects Thursday’s protests to be the movement’s biggest day of action since those initial strikes. In New York City this morning, workers and activists will deliver a petition to a member of Walmart’s corporate board. On the other side of the country, workers will march through downtown Los Angeles starting at 11:30 local time. Rallies, discussions, and pickets outside Walmart stores are planned throughout the day and evening in various cities around the country, including Baton Rouge, Raleigh, Orlando, Dallas, and Chicago.
Protesters are responding to Walmart’s crackdown on labor activism. The company routinely disciplines and even fires workers who push for better work conditions, higher wages, or more consistent hours. Such retaliatory firings are illegal under the National Labor Relations Act, and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) investigations of over 100 complaints against Walmart for violations of that law have thus far produced 11 confirmed violations of the labor statute, according to Walmart organizers. Walmart openly threatens that vacation time and other benefits “might go away” when its workers inquire about union rights.
Walmart workers have good reason to seek those rights. Managers routinely deny bathroom breaks and other basic worker accommodations, according to reports from workers. One pregnant employee named Svetlana Arizanovska eventually miscarried after her boss refused to let her perform less physically strenuous duties.
Meanwhile, Walmart’s wages are too low to live on for most employees, even though competing retailers offer livable wages and benefits. Economists say improving worker treatment would actually improve the company’s bottom line.
Thursday’s Walmart protests come a week after the ongoing campaign of fast food worker strikers spread to nearly 60 cities nationwide, including several of the locations of Walmart protests scheduled for today.
A spokesperson for Walmart sent a statement on Thursday’s protests: “This is just like what this union group has been doing on and off since last year – it’s just a show and, with very few exceptions, the cast members don’t work at Walmart nor are they affiliated with the company in any way… the opinions being expressed aren’t representative of the vast majority of the people who work for us.”