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Walmart Workers Strike Over Minimum Wage in 15 U.S. Cities

Today marks largest planned action since last November.
 
 
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Walmart workers and their supporters are launching protests in stores in 15 cities across the US today, as part of a small but vociferous movement to raise wages and improve conditions for some of the nation's lowest paid workers.

The action follows strikes last week by fast food workers demanding a higher minimum wage and a civil disobedience action in  Washington DCin August, where a coalition of Walmart workers and unions called for a minimum annual wage of $25,000 and the reinstatement of 20 employees they claim were illegally fired by the company after strikes in early June.

OurWalmart, a union-backed members group, says it has filed more than 100 unfair labour practice charges against Walmart with the National Labor Relations Board, including 20 illegal terminations and 80 disciplinary actions. The board said it was looking into "several cases".

Walmart have denied any wrongdoing.

Thursday's actions will include a march in Los Angeles and a rally outside the Four Seasons hotel in San Francisco, where  Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO and Walmart board member has a penthouse apartment. In New York, a petition will be delivered to the headquarters of Williams Capital Group, whose chairman, Christopher Williams, is a Walmart board member. Other actions are expected in Washington DC, where a bill was recently passed by the city council to pay workers for large retailers $12.50 an hour. Workers will also  protest in Chicago, Boston, Sacramento, Miami and Dallas, according to organisers.

Last week's fast food workers were aimed at raising the federal minimum wage, which has not altered in four years, from $7.25 to $15 an hour.  Walmart workers earn on average $8.81 an hour, according to OurWalmart. Walmart says its "average full-time hourly associate" makes $12.83/hour.

The protests by workers represent a tiny proportion of Walmart's 1.3 million workforce, but organisers say Thursday will mark the largest action since protests last November when, they claim, 400 workers walked off their shifts.

The scattered protests follow increasing scrutiny of the retailer in recent months, after reports of international  bribery allegations in Mexico, and questions about factory safety among its global suppliers after 1,000 garment workers were killed when a building collapsed in Bangladesh. Concerns over the retailer's employment practices were also cited by two European pension funds, in their decisions to remove their investments in the retailer. Dutch pension managers PGGM and Mn Services declared in June that they would divest from Walmart, claiming that the company does not treat its employees in accordance with international standards of freedom of association and has failed to respond to their concerns.

The alleged terminations and disciplinary actions relate to a demonstration in June by more than 100 workers who travelled to Bentonville, Arkansas, to take part in a rally at Walmart's shareholders meeting, according to OURWalmart. 

Raymond Bravo, 36, from San Pablo, California, who earned $10.25 an hour as a janitor for a Walmart's Richmond Hilltop Mall store in California, working 30 hours a week, said he was fired from his job after taking part in the strikes and demonstrations in June. Bravo, who is single, said he became active in the protests after seeing his coworkers run out of money at the end of each month. "Three days before payday I would see people who normally eat not eating," said Bravo. "They would be borrowing money from each other."

Bravo said he took part in a strike, from 29 May to 12 June, not only for higher wages but in order to have a voice in the workplace. "I was fired for going on strike, for speaking out," said Bravo, who worked at the Richmond store for two years. "They told me it was for missing days. But in America, you can go on strike and you are protected. I hope the government forces Walmart to give me my job back because it will give others the courage to join up."

 
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