In the latest labor action against Walmart, dozens of workers reportedly walked out on the job on Friday to go on strike. Workers demanded higher wages and better hours, and one worker told Salon that he estimated 80 people took part in the action.
The strike came after protests in 15 different cities in September against the country’s largest private employer. But while those included rallies and pickets in protest of alleged firings of striking workers, they did not include workers who were on strike. Friday’s action was the first work stoppage since June. While past actions were organized by OUR Walmart and supported by unions, this appeared to be independently organized.
Workers have alleged that they are routinely disciplined and fired for trying to organize for better hours and wages. In August, 10 current and former workers were arrested at a rally outside the company’s headquarters. Labor groups allege that five workers were fired after strikes in June while others were suspended or disciplined. The company has admitted that it threatens that vacation time or other benefits could disappear when workers ask about the right to unionize.
Walmart, for its part, told the Huffington Post that employees don’t get full schedules because they aren’t available all the time and has denied that it is a minimum wage employer. It has previously said of the protests that “the opinions being expressed aren’t representative of the vast majority of the people who work for us.”
A recent survey found that over half of Walmart locations are only hiring temporary workers, not full-time positions. Meanwhile, while the company claims full-time workers make $12.78 an hour on average, another report says the average worker makes $8.81, 28 percent of the pay at other large retailers. Its workers make so little that they have to rely on public benefits to get by, with workers at a single location consuming around $1 million worth in food stamps, Medicaid, and other programs. The company has also stood staunchly against living wage bills in multiple cities, with the latest victory in Washington, DC, where after it threatened to pull plans to open stores Mayor Vince Gray (D) vetoed a bill.
Yet the store’s sales have recently suffered, in part from widespread customer dissatisfaction with its inability to keep shelves stocked, likely thanks to not hiring enough full-time workers. Other stores follow a different model, with Costco paying workers $21.96 an hour and seeing profits rise 19 percent in the first quarter of the year. WinCo, a small Idaho-based grocery store chain, beats Walmart’s prices while paying more than $11 an hour and offering generous benefits.
Perpetually low wages aren’t unique to the retail sector, and they have also sparked widespread protests and strikes in the fast food industry, which have spread to nearly 60 cities.