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Walmart Retaliates Against Black Friday Activists

With its own workers standing up against poverty wages and exploitation, Walmart is siccing the cops on past and present employees, allegedly on false pretenses.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Oree Originol/ArtistsVsWalmart.tumblr.com

 

As Black Friday approached, the honchos at Walmart, the largest employer in the United States, found themselves at a loss to respond to a nationwide rebellion within the ranks of their near-captive workers -- people who work for an average wage of $8.81 per hour, according to The National Memo, often in areas where Walmart is the only game in town for a job if you don’t have a college degree (or even if you do). And so it seems they started making stuff up, and pulling strings -- in at least two locations -- to get local police to do their bidding.

Across the country this Friday, Walmart workers and their supporters are conducting rallies and protests at or near Walmart stores, as shoppers line up in the pre-dawn hours for a crack at the super-bargains that are the retailer’s Black Friday hallmark.

For more than six months, two groups linked to the United Food & Commercial Workers union have been working on behalf of Walmart employees, demanding a living wage, a humane level of benefits, reasonable hours and an end to the company’s legendary retaliation against workers who seek to unionize and put an end to its abusive labor practices, including wage theft. Walmart employees number 1.4 million, and, as Catherine Ruetschlin of Demos reports, it is the country's largest single employer of African Americans.

The groups, OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart, are relying largely on social media campaigns to organize what are expected to be thousands of Walmart workers walking off the job today. Aiding in the organizing are former Walmart employees, such as Alex Rivera, who claims he was fired by Walmart in Orlando this September for joining the OUR Walmart campaign, according to a report by The Nation's Josh Eidelson.

On Wednesday, Rivera was handcuffed by Orlando police -- in front of his former colleagues -- when he entered the store in which he was formerly employed, because, Eidelson writes, Walmart managers appear to have falsely told police that the store had a “no tresspassing” order against the former Walmart “associate,” as the mega-retailer calls its employees.

From Eidelson’s article:

According to Rivera and an OUR Walmart organizer who accompanied him to the store, Rivera was leaning over to drink from a water fountain when a police officer grabbed his arm without warning, put him in handcuffs and led him to an office. Rivera said that the officer told him that Walmart management had informed the police that Rivera had previously signed a written trespassing warning obligating him not to return to the premises. Walmart “lied to the police officer.…” said Rivera. “That’s why they handcuffed me.”

Rivera says that he was released when the store managers were unable to provide police with a copy of the warning, and police realized they no such document in their own records.

Meanwhile, in St. Cloud, Fla., Vanessa Ferreira walked off the job in another Walmart store after she was disciplined for the first time in her eight-year tenure as a cake decorator in the store’s bakery department, an action she’s convinced Walmart managers took against her because she is a known member of OUR Walmart.

After she walked off the job, reports the Huffington Post’s Dave Jamieson, Walmart managers had police evict Ferreira and several family members from the store, allegedly for “trespassing,” telling her she was not welcome back on the premises until after Black Friday. After Ferreira filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that the retailer was infringing on her right to organize, Jamieson writes, a Walmart spokesperson said the trespassing warning had been issued to Ferreira in error.

Ferreira told Jamieson that she took the action because, unlike most of her fellow “associates,” she could afford to, on account of her husband’s income.

From Jamieson’s report:

As much as she loves her job, there's plenty Ferreira doesn't like about her employer. According to Ferreira, Walmart's wages are too low for workers to survive on, and the company keeps too many of its employees on part-time status, leaving them to rely on government assistance to get by.

"They pay low wages, then the taxpayers pick up the tab for food stamps and Medicaid," Ferreira said. "They need to take care of their people. They need to be responsible to their workers."

According to a study by Good Jobs First, a labor-supported group, Walmart, in state after state, either tops the list, or ranks among the top five companies whose employees receive their health care from government-financed programs for the poor such as Medicaid, and just as high among those whose workers are enrolled in a food stamp program.

In Confessions of a Wal-Mart Hit Man, a bonus scene from Robert Greenwald’s groundbreaking film, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, a former Walmart manager talks of how he stopped taking his meal in the store staff lunchroom because of the discomfort of eating in front of workers who took their lunch break with no food, presumably because they could not afford a mid-day meal. (See video at the end of this piece.)

A recent study from Demos demonstrates how a living wage paid to Walmart workers would help the overall economy, with only a negligible impact on prices.

The Black Friday actions -- a day of protests and rallies outside or near Walmart stores -- follow a two-week strike in September at a California Walmart warehouse, where workers alleged retaliation from managers for organizing with an affiliate of the Change to Win Coalition, and an October walkout at a Chicago Walmart facility, to which police in riot gear were dispatched to quell a peaceful protest.

Two weeks ago, Walmart filed its own NLRB complaint against the United Food & Commercial Workers, seeking an injunction against the planned Black Friday actions. The complaint failed. A week later, UFCW-affiliated OUR Walmart group filed a complaint with the labor board against Walmart, alleging retaliation against workers involved in the OUR Walmart campaign.

Even if you’ve never set foot near a Walmart store in your life, today’s actions offer a host of ways to get involved in the fight for fair pay and benefits. The AFL-CIO blog, among other Web sites, offers a list of ways to get involved.

The video below,Confessions of a Wal-Mart Hit Man, features a former general manager for the company speaking of the ways managers cheated workers out of wages they had earned, rigged a vote against a union in the company's Annapolis, Md., store, and how hard it was to eat in the staff lunchroom, where workers took their breaks with no food, because they couldn't afford to buy lunch. The video is a bonus scene from Robert Greenwald's documentary:Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.

Adele M. Stan is a journalist based in Washington, D.C., who specializes in covering the intersection of religion and politics. She is RH Reality Check's senior Washington correspondent.