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'Walmart Illegally Fired Me, But I’m Still Fighting for Change This Black Friday'

A Walmart worker who was fired after taking part in the longest strike ever against the corporation continues to fight for his former co-workers.
 
 
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Dominic Ware organizing with OUR Walmart for better working conditions.

 

A little more than two years ago, Dominic Ware was hired as a part-time cart pusher at a Walmart in San Leandro, Calif. During orientation, he said, the managers painted quite a picture of what a worker’s future at Walmart would look like. They said the store manager and assistant manger were making six figures and had fancy cars and nice homes. “You can have that,” they would say. “Work for us. Dedicate your life to us.”

“I fell for it,” Ware said. “I really looked at it as a place to change my life.”

Ware’s hours were good in the beginning. Hired around the holiday season, he started out happily working 30-40 hours per week, despite his part-time status. But after the holidays, his hours steadily were cut down to 12 hours per week and sometimes as low as six hours a week. As work became less busy, Ware spent more time in the breakrooms, which allowed him to talk with his fellow co-workers. He started listening to their stories. Some, who had worked at Walmart for 10 to 20 years, spoke about how they hated coming to work because they felt disrespected on a daily basis.

Although Ware’s hours were cut and he made only $8.25 per hour (with only a 40 cent raise after a year), he too was most upset by a feeling of disrespect.

He said that Walmart has a "15-foot rule," in which employees were supposed to greet and offer assistance to anyone within 15 feet of them. This came naturally to Ware—it was essentially how his grandmother raised him. But when it came to the higher-ups at Walmart, his hospitality wasn’t returned. 

“Our job is to be courteous and kind to anyone in our vicinity. … But I couldn’t even get a ‘Hello’ or ‘Good morning,’” he said. “I would walk past these managers and salary members to try to start the day off with a ‘Hi’ or ‘Good morning,’ and they would walk by like they couldn’t even see me or hear me.… Then over the intercom, a few minutes later, they would call, ‘Dominic, hurry up we need more carts.’ It’s like, wait I thought you didn’t see me?… It’s so demoralizing, and it makes a person hate doing anything they ask you to do.”

Ware decided to use Walmart’s open-door policy, and set up a meeting with his store manager. Ware asked her if managers were trained not to interact with employees. He said she was shocked to hear about how the managers treated employees.

“I walked out of that meeting and felt like I accomplished something — like something was going to be done,” Ware said. “But to my let-down it wasn’t. Even she started doing little things here and there that I felt was kind of the same issue I was dealing with her fellow co-workers. So I was pretty much tired of Walmart.”

Things took a turn in Ware’s life when an organizer for Organization United for Respect, known as OUR Walmart, gave him a pamphlet about their coalition of former and current Walmart workers. Ware began doing research and realized that Walmart workers were suffering from similar problems nationwide.

“It wasn’t until I found out that it wasn’t just going on in my store but every store across this country, and there’s an organization trying to fight the same things I was fighting alone, that I decided to make working at Walmart, staying at Walmart and fighting for the workers at Walmart, my top priority,” Ware said.

He began talking to co-workers and explained to them that workers have rights. While a lot of people started to become activated, a lot of his co-workers also were scared. Ware said that's because of Walmart’s “mind manipulation.” He said, “Workers are made to feel like ‘you need Walmart, Walmart don’t need you.’ … If you want to complain about the hours, it’s ‘Why are you complaining? There’s several other people behind you waiting to come in.’”

Ware said: 

They tell us that if we do our job, we won’t have anything to worry about. But I say to them, I didn’t look at working at Walmart as a job. A job is something you can enjoy doing because it helps you move up in life. A job is something where you can work and have a solid future if you put in the work. A job is something you’re supposed to be proud of. … A job can, with hard work and dedication, one day help you grab your slice of American pie and own your own property. … But this — this is not a job. I feel like it’s a new-age form of slave labor, except this time, there’s no skin color discrepancy. … The gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing more every day.

Ware continued to feel more empowered. In June, he took part in OUR Walmart’s Ride for Respect, a bus ride to Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, mirrored after the Freedom Rides of the 1960s. About 200 Walmart workers rallied outside headquarters demanding better working conditions. It was the longest strike against Walmart in history. When Ware returned from the strike, he was fired, along with 22 other workers across the country who went to Bentonville. Walmart claimed it didn't recognize Ware’s actions as a strike, and terminated him for job abandonment.

The National Labor Relations Board recently found these firings illegal, meaning Ware may be reinstated with back pay. A Walmart spokesperson has said that the company will defend itself and that its actions were “legal and justified.” If Walmart does not reach settlements with the parties, the NLRB will issue complaints, which would lead to a hearing.

Ware says his firing actually worked to make his co-workers less fearful and more eager to push back against Walmart. He continues to encourage employees to speak out, saying that, “If you don’t say something, nothing will happen… you may be fired anyway.”

Ware believes that Walmart is finally starting to take the movement seriously. He said, “First they ignored us, then they laughed at us, and now they are fighting us tooth and nail.”

Employees, he said, are ready to sustain their fight. Ware said, “More people are getting activated, and OUR Walmart is all over our communities, and we’re coming together.”

Ware said he hopes that people come out in support of workers this Friday during the 1,500 OUR Walmart Black Friday rallies planned across the country. Last year, 30,000 people participated in Black Friday protests nationwide while 400 employees walked off the job. This year, it’s expected to be even larger. Ware said it’s vital for people to stand in solidarity with these workers in order to really help their cause. “There are times when silence is a form of betrayal,” Ware said.

“True compassion,” he added, “is more than handing out a dollar. More than listening to a person’s problems. More than saying you agree to the cause. It’s when you see your brothers and sisters walking with that cross, looking tired and worn down. True compassion is when you decide to lift that cross with him and walk the same steps with him, as if they were your own.”

Ware said he will continue to fight for his former co-workers and encourages people to do the same:

I tell people nowadays, that yes, I was a worker. I felt it. But don’t come to support me. Don’t come to these rallies for me. Go for these workers that are still giving these lives to this company and showing loyalty in the face of disrespect. Go for these people that feel like nobody has their backs, and they cannot change Walmart because Walmart is too big. That’s what they put into the minds of these workers.… It’s a daily thing, they smash them, they disrespect them, and I’m sick and tired of it.

To find your local Black Friday protest to support Walmart workers, visit BlackFridayProtests.org.

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet.