Walmart strikes spread

Workers at more Walmart stores throughout the US walked off the job on Tuesday morning (October 9) and went on strike to protest unfair labor practices at the retail giant’s stores.

Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR) members said that Walmart employees, or associates as the company likes to call them, are striking to protest management’s retaliation against workers who speak out for better conditions on the job.

Strikers include workers at stores in Dallas, Miami, Sacramento, the Washington DC area, Southern California, and the San Francisco Bay Area. As of Wednesday morning, the strikers have not returned to work. Support demonstrations for Wednesday, October 10 are being organized across the country.

“We cannot continue to allow Walmart’s attempt to silence and retaliate against workers continue,” said Stacy Cottongame, a worker at the Walmart Ennis, Texas store near Dallas. “Our jobs shouldn’t be on the line because we are speaking out for better jobs.”

Workers at the Ennis store walked off the job at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning and were joined by workers at the Walmart store in Lancaster, another Dallas suburb. Strikers from the two suburban stores then met workers from the Dallas store who had walked off the job, and they along with community supporters rallied in front of the Dallas store.

The strikers are members of OUR, which started out as a small group of Walmart employees seeking change on the job and has grown to an organization with thousands of members in hundreds of Walmart stores in 43 states.

OUR members are fighting for better pay, more work hours, better scheduling, and decent benefits. Colby Harris, who works in the produce section of the Dallas store,  explained to Josh Eidelson writing for Salon.com what it’s like to work for Walmart. “A lot of associates use somewhat of a buddy system,” Harris said to Eidelson. “We loan each other money during non-paycheck weeks just to make it through to the next week because we don’t have enough money after paying bills to even eat lunch.”

In addition to borrowing money from each other, some Walmart workers have had to rely on government support programs such as Food Stamps to make ends meet.

The work of these low-paid associates helped the retail giant make profits of nearly $16 billion in 2011.

Walmart, however, did not share much of this bounty with its workers. Harris makes only $8.90 an hour. Top executives on the other hand received compensation in 2011 of more than $10 million each.

The Walton family, which owns Walmart, is doing even better. The small, tight-knit group of heirs of Sam Walton, Walmart’s founder, have more wealth than all of the families that comprise the bottom 42 percent of the wealth spectrum in the US.

The most recent strikes add to a series of problems facing Walmart. Workers at its warehouses in Southern California and Elwood Illinois went on strike to protest working conditions at the warehouses.

The Elwood workers recently returned to work after the Walmart contractor that operates the warehouse agreed to pay the workers for the 21 days they were on strike and to stop the retaliation that sparked the strike.

The California strike ended after two weeks when Walmart agreed to hire a third party to monitor conditions at its warehouses.

Workers at two Walmart-contractor operated seafood factories, one in Louisiana and one in Thailand, walked off the job earlier this year to protest slave-like conditions at the two facilities.

The retail giant has also faced opposition from consumers and small- and medium-sized businesses as it tries to expand into urban markets such as Los Angeles, Boston, and New York City.

Walmart’s corporate image took a hit when the New York Times reported that the company had bribed Mexican government officials in its effort to expand its presence in Mexico.

While the strikes by Walmart workers is the most dramatic actions so far in the struggle to improve conditions at Walmart, OUR is promising that they won’t be the last. OUR plans to announce future actions aimed at making change at Walmart at a teleconference on Wednesday, October 10.

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