Labor

Walmart Manager Allegedly Wanted to 'Shoot Everyone' Organizing for Better Working Conditions at Store

Walmart has been ordered to stop making illegal threats against OUR Walmart members.

Bay Area OUR Walmart workers and supporters march in front of a Walmart store during Black Friday 2014.
Photo Credit: Alyssa Figueroa

Raymond Bravo, a former Walmart employee in Richmond, CA, decided to go on strike with his co-workers back in November 2012 because they were tired of being disrespected. After their white manager made a racially charged comment, enough was enough.

“This manager, Van Riper, told one of the associates who was a member—they were pulling a shelf with rope around his waist—and he told him that he’d like to put that rope around his neck,” Bravo said. “And the associate is African American.”

Following the strike, Walmart gave the workers two writeups. Workers can only get three writeups before being placed on a probation period in which they can get fired after their next mistake.  

On Tuesday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Walmart had acted illegally and forced the corporation to rescind its disciplinary actions. The corporation’s retaliation tactics are one of the biggest impediments to Walmart workers organizing for change. That’s why this is a significant step in the workers’ national fight to improve their working conditions.

“It makes me feel hella good,” Bravo said.

Going on Strike

Bravo joined OUR Walmart, a community of former and current employees fighting for better working conditions, back in January 2012.

“When you start working at Walmart they give you 40 hours, then all of a sudden they start cutting your hours,” he said. “And then you start seeing the favoritism, the disrespect. There were some organizers coming into my store and they were handing out cards and I went online and looked at the videos online about it and I put two and two together and I joined. You had to do it. Because if you didn’t try to stick together and make any change, it would stay the same.”

Bravo said he and a few of his co-workers were tired of their managers lying about OUR Walmart.

“They were spreading rumors like, ‘OUR Walmart, all they do is want your money,’” he said.

But after learning about the store manager’s racist comment to their coworker, they wanted to do something about it. Bravo and a handful of his coworkers on the overnight shift decided to have a work stoppage. For two hours, they stopped working and sat at the customer service desk until the store opened to the public.

“The managers were yelling at us. They kept asking us to leave,” he said. “But it felt awesome because we were standing up for each other.”

Returning to Work

When OUR Walmart members return to work following a strike, they go as a group to their manager and read a script of their rights to strike and return to work. After Bravo and his co-workers at the Richmond store followed that procedure, their manager Riper responded by threatening workers’ lives.

“He claimed that we were a union, and he said that he wanted to shoot everyone in the union,” Bravo said. “It made me feel really mad and kind of hurt because we’re not doing anything wrong. And we don’t deserve to have our lives threatened. No one does. It made me feel hella bad.”

A week later, Bravo and the others were given two writeups for participating in the work stoppage. Because Bravo was written up once before, this placed him on “D-Day” or “decision day”—a sort of probation during which workers can get fired for one other incident. Bravo said if a Walmart worker doesn’t get written up for a year, it clears the writeups from their record.

“They were saying I was part of a well-orchestrated flash mob and that I was occupying Walmart property and disrupting sales and service,” Bravo said. “They didn’t recognize that we had that right to go on strike.”

But the threats didn’t stop there. Managers continued to discipline the workers who participated in the work stoppage.

“They told us that we better look for another job,” Bravo said. “They separated us. They told associates not to talk to us.”

Fighting Back Against Walmart

Since OUR Walmart workers nationwide held their first Black Friday strikes back in 2012, managers have escalated their threats to deter workers from fighting for change. A group of lawyers filed charges against Walmart to the National Labor Relations Board on the workers behalf. As the result of one of these charges, the NLRB on Tuesday called on Walmart to immediately stop its threats against OUR Walmart members and remove the illegal disciplinary actions from six workers who went on strike in Richmond.

The NLRB wrote in their decision that Walmart should “cease and desist from … threatening Richmond, California store associates that it would ‘shoot the union …’ threatening Richmond, California store associates by telling them that associates returning from strike would be looking for new jobs … Issuing disciplinary coachings to associates because they engaged in a protected work stoppage, and to discourage associates from engaging in those or other protected activities.”

In 2013, Jobs With Justice reported on Walmart’s efforts to silence workers, uncovering more than 150 incidents in stores nationwide. But in the report, they also called the NLRB out for taking years to make decisions, leaving workers without immediate relief. Bravo, for one, was fired from Walmart and is awaiting legal proceedings. He said he couldn’t discuss his case.

Jobs With Justice wrote in their report that the NLRB “has broken down for two main reasons: 1) employers face no punitive consequences for violating U.S. labor laws; and 2) excessive delays in enforcement in many cases render the already weak remedies for labor law violation virtually meaningless.”

While the NLRB’s ruling on Tuesday is just a step for now, it’s one that Bravo is deservedly proud of.

“Walmart can’t silence us and everybody has the right to go on strike,” he said. “And the government just reinforced that we had that right and it feels hella good to be a part of something so great and hella people are going to benefit from our actions.”

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. 

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