Instead of reporting for work on October 4, dozens of Walmart workers in Southern California staged a one-day unfair labor practices strike to protest what they described as the retail giant’s retaliation and abuse against Walmart workers trying to improve conditions at the company’s stores.
“Walmart has lashed out at us for speaking up,” said Venanzi Luna, one the strikers in an email message to supporters.
Luna is a member of Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR), a worker-led group of Walmart employees who for the last year have waged a collective effort to improve scheduling, benefits, and wages at Walmart.
“Above all, we want Walmart to respect us,” Luna said.
OUR members say that Walmart has responded to their efforts to improve their jobs by cutting work hours, imposing unfair disciplinary action, and intimidating workers.
The strike took place at several Walmart stores in the Los Angeles area. The strikers and their supporters held a boisterous rally at a Walmart in Rico Rivera, California, a suburb of Los Angeles.
Their supporters, according to the New York Times, included Charles Calderon, majority leader of the California State Assembly; the Rev. Eric P. Lee, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; and María Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
The strike by Walmart associates is the first in North America in the store’s 50-year history.
It comes at the same time that workers at a Walmart warehouse in Elwood, Illinois remain on strike. The warehouse strike, also an unfair labor practice strike over retaliation against worker attempts to improve working conditions, has lasted nearly three weeks.
The warehouse strike is not technically against Walmart but rather the contractor that operates company’s warehouse; nevertheless, the warehouse workers are demanding that Walmart take responsibility for the oppressive actions of their contractor that include wage theft and unsafe working conditions.
The warehouse workers say that Walmart’s policies that cause contractors to continually lower labor cost in order to meet the retail giant’s demands for lower prices are responsible for the wage theft and unsafe conditions at their warehouse.
Another group of Walmart warehouse workers in Southern California recently returned to work after a two-week strike and a 50-mile pilgrimage through Southern California drew attention to conditions in Walmart’s warehouses.
Members of OUR told Josh Eidelson writing for Salon that the warehouse strikes are what led OUR members to call their own strike. “We see what’s happening to (the warehouse workers) as part of the same process of lowering of standards that’s happening to us,” said Pat Tifft, another striker to Eidelson.
The strikers will return to work on Friday. Since the strike is an unfair labor practices strike, the strikers’ jobs are supposed to be protected by law because even non-unionized workers have the right to take collective action against unfair labor practices.
The workers, however, are apprehensive about what awaits them after they return to work and are asking supporters to show their solidarity with them.
“Even though I’m working hard to juggle my job, a tight budget and caring for my sick father, I know that I have to do something to stop Walmart from bullying us when we practice our freedom of speech,” Luna said in her message. “Many of us are taking a huge risk by going on strike. That’s why we need your support.”
Luna said that people could show their support by signing a letter of solidarity with striking Walmart workers.