Is Wal-Mart Purging Activists Who Went On Strike?
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons: Inoyamanaka79
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In a coordinated purge, Walmart has lashed out against workers who walked out in early June.
Sixty have been fired or disciplined so far, said Brandon Garrett, a worker from Baker, Louisiana, who was fired June 28. About two dozen have been terminated.
The retaliation appears to be in response to the week-long strike by hundreds of store employees. Many took buses to the corporation’s home office in Bentonville, Arkansas, and brought their grievances to the annual shareholder meeting nearby.
The strike and “Ride for Respect” to Bentonville was the most ambitious action yet for the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), a group of Walmart retail workers formed in 2011 with the support of the United Food and Commercial Workers.
Over the past three years, OUR Walmart members have conducted several one-day strikes, including two on consecutive Black Fridays, the biggest shopping days of the year. The organization’s goals include a living wage at the stores, respect on the job, adequate hours, health care, and a way to redress grievances.
Walmart’s owners, relatives of its founder Sam Walton, together control more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans combined. However, sales have sagged as understaffing has produced long cashier lines and chaotic shelves.
The firings didn’t happen when the workers first returned from Bentonville. Garrett and another worker in his store were fired three weeks later—for failing to show up the days they struck. Workers said they thought Walmart headquarters is coordinating the firings.
Garrett, who worked as an overnight stocker, explained to his supervisor that he was striking to protest unfair labor practices and that it was illegal to fire him for participating. “We don’t recognize strikers,” his supervisor told him.
Among the six people from his store who struck, two were fired and the other four were given warnings. (Accumulate three warnings and you’re out. “Like baseball,” Garrett explained.)
No Show, No Call?
Fired workers said managers accused them of not showing up and not calling in when they were on strike.
But OUR Walmart, anticipating the stores would claim this, had faxed lists of the workers going out on strike to managers in each store. In addition, the workers called the number they call when they’re calling in sick, and got confirmation numbers, said Yvette Brown, a fabric department worker fired from her store in Placerville, California. Supervisors claimed they never got the fax or the call.
Her mother, Norma Dobyns, said she was fired from the same store for the same bogus reason. “And they claim to care about families,” said Dobyns.
The mother-daughter duo traveled to New York to protest outside the house of Walmart director Christopher Williams, who lives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, on Friday. They passed out leaflets directed at Williams, saying, “The time for silence is over,” and asking passersby to sign a petition.
Understaffing is a problem in the Placerville store. “There’s not enough help, not enough cashiers,” said Dobyns. “They pull people from other departments.”
Brown, who works in the fabrics and crafts department, described her responsibilities in a four-hour shift: Re-shelve stuff people didn’t buy, cut fabric for customers, answer the phone, empty two pallets of freight.
“If you get close to having enough hours [thirty a week] to qualify for the health insurance, they cut your hours,” said Brown.
Another striker, Marc Bowers, was fired with two co-workers two weeks after they returned from Bentonville. He had worked at a Dallas, Texas, store for eight years, and said he joined OUR Walmart because of the company’s “total lack of respect for hard work.” He said broken cart pushers at the store made his job harder.