Economy

Walmart Workers Give Up Thanksgiving Dinner To Stage 24-Hour Fast For Higher Wages

CREDIT: Associated Press

A Black Friday protest outside of a St. Paul, Minnesota Walmart in 2013

On Thanksgiving Day, 12 striking Walmart workers and community members will start a 24-hour fast to protest what they say are wages so low they leave employees hungry.

Salomon Fuentes will be one of them. While he considers his job with Walmart to be one of the better-paid ones, even he struggles. “If me who makes $13 an hour and works full time, I’m very close to hunger, how about the other ones who make less and work less than 30 hours?” he said in an interview with ThinkProgress about why he’s striking.

After paying their bills out of their low wages, he says his coworkers — and sometimes he himself — can’t make things stretch to the end of the month. “We don’t have food at the end, so we don’t buy the food we want, we just buy the ones that we can afford,” he noted. While he’s never actually gone hungry, he says it’s because he belongs to a church community that helps him out. “Not everybody belongs to that kind of community,” he adds.

So he’ll be fasting tomorrow, rather than eating a Thanksgiving meal with his family, on behalf of those other coworkers. “Most of them, they’re afraid to speak up because of the way they’re treated… They fear losing their jobs,” he said. “I’m not afraid. I know that it could happen, but I think that somebody has to do it.”

He would be happy to be home with his family and eating a big meal. But, he said, “it’s more important for me that my daughter and also my relatives, they see that in order to keep our values we have to fight for them.” He added, “The food with family is just part of culture, but what we’re doing here is something that is more important.”

“I don’t like politics, but I also don’t like injustice,” he said.

There are no figures on how many Walmart workers may be struggling with hunger. A request for comment from the company on the hunger strike was not returned by time of publication. But one report noted that 88 percent of food bank recipients make $25,000 or less, which is what the majority of Walmart workers make. Walmart employees also often rely on public benefits, consuming about $1 billion from programs such as food stamps or the school lunch program at just one 300-person location. The company has also come under fire for food bins set up in its stores asking employees to donate food to struggling employees, which critics say exposes the fact that its wages aren’t enough to afford food.

The hunger strikes will come a day after workers began strikes earlier than expected, walking off the job in California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. D.C. strikers also started a sit-down strike. Workers have promised that Black Friday will see the biggest wave of strikes ever.

Workers in low-wage industries, who had already been staging one-day strikes over the past three years, have started incorporating new tactics. Walmart workers staged the first-ever sit-in strike last month and many were arrested in a protest that shut down traffic in New York City and Washington, D.C. That comes after waves of one-day strikes, including massive ones staged on Black Friday, to demand higher wages, more full-time work, and an end to retaliation against workers who organize.

While some employees Walmart will be outside the store on hunger strike, nearly 1 million will be inside stores on Thanksgiving Day. That’s because Walmart will be open all day, one of the 12 national chains that will open on the national holiday and require some employees to come to work rather than stay at home with family and friends.