Striking Walmart workers gathered in Bentonville, Arkansas on Wednesday, October 10 and announced that their next action for change at Walmart will take place on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and traditionally retail stores’ biggest revenue day.
More than 100 strikers arrived in Bentonville, Walmart’s headquarters, for a demonstration during Walmart’s 19th Annual Meeting for the Investment Community, which brings together financial analysts from all over the world to hear Walmart present its plans for the future.
The strikers who left work on Tuesday and plan to return on Thursday said that while they are in Bentonville, they will try to take their demands for better jobs to Walmart’s CEO Mike Duke.
“We’re here in Bentonville to let Walmart management know why went on strike,” said Colby Harris, a Walmart worker from Dallas, who went out on strike on Tuesday. “We’re tired of them not listening to us. We’d like to talk directly to Duke about the problems that caused the strike.”
During a teleconference Harris and Evelin Cruz, a worker at a Walmart store in Pico Rivera, California, cited a number of problems that Walmart associates face every day. Low pay, unaffordable benefits, erratic scheduling that makes it difficult for workers to spend time with their families, and not enough hours of work.
But, according to Harris and Cruz , what set off the strike was Walmart’s retaliation against workers who are speaking up for change at the retail giant. “They’ve cut back hours of people who speak up to punish them,” Cruz said.
Daniel Schlademan, executive director of Making Change at Walmart, a labor-community coalition supporting Walmart workers trying to improve their jobs, said that Walmart workers have filed about 20 unfair labor practices charges against Walmart’s retaliation. In addition to cutting back hours, Walmart has fired workers and taken measures to limit free speech, he said.
Cruz and Harris belong to Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR), a Walmart worker led group that has thousands of members in hundreds of Walmart stores in 43 states.
On Tuesday night Cruz, Harris, and other OUR members who came to Bentonville met to plan their next move to improve their jobs.
“We’ll present our demands to management here in Bentonville,” Harris said. “And if they ignore us or fail to meet these demands, our next action will be on Black Friday. There may be more strikes, there may be rallies at stores, there may be leafletting at stores, but there will be non-violent actions at Walmart stores if our demands are not met.”
Those demands referred to by Harris include rehiring with back pay those fired in retaliation for speaking up for better conditions on the job and restoring the work hours of those whose hours were cut in acts of retaliation by the company.
The strikes that began in Los Angeles on Friday and spread to other stores in other cities weren’t intended to shut down stores; instead, their purpose was to show Walmart workers who are reluctant to join the fight to improve their jobs that workers have rights that are protected by law if they are willing to use them.
The National Labor Relations Act provides some basic protections for union and non-union workers who take collective action to improve working conditions. Among other things, workers have the right form and freely participate in organizations whose purpose is to improve working conditions.
Workers also have the right to participate in concerted efforts to protect these rights, including an unfair labor practices strike. Workers participating in an unfair labor practices strike over such things as employer retaliation cannot be fired for doing so if they return to work unconditionally, which the Walmart strikers plan to do.
The strikers hope that when their fellow workers see OUR members back on the job after the strike, those who did not walk out will realize that they too can take organized action to improve their job without the fear of being fired.
Walmart management uses fear and intimidation to stop employees from organizing for better conditions, Harris said. When we return to work, we’ll be talking to our fellow employees about how we stood up to Walmart and how this strike shows that they can do the same. This strike will show other workers that, “you’re more at risk outside our organization than inside it.”
During the teleconference, representatives of the National Organization of Women, the National Consumers League, Working for Change at Walmart, and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement said that they would be supporting actions at Walmarts on Black Friday.
Pastor Edwin Jones of Living Faith Baptist Church and International Ministries in Washington DC said that he would also be supporting the Black Friday action.
Jones is one of the African-American community leaders who have been fighting Walmart’s expansion into Washington DC. “What we’re hearing from these workers causes us to be cautious about the jobs that Walmart says it will create if it comes to Washington DC,” Jones said. “These aren’t the kind of jobs that will make our community thrive. The pay is too low. There either are no benefits or you have to wait two or three years to be eligible for them. Then, sometimes you can’t afford them. African-Americans want good jobs that help sustain families.”