Striking Walmart workers are making it very clear that if the giant store chain does not address their demands, they will see a most memorable Black Friday, as the holiday shopping season kicks off this year.
"Striking is not something we would like to do but we want to let Walmart know we are serious," said striking Dallas worker Cody Harris. "We refuse to watch the injustice that goes on in these stores. We don't want to do this, but we don't have a choice."
These courageous workers represent the leadership of this movement who are showing their co-workers there is nothing to fear, said Dan Schlademan, director of Making Change at Walmart. Schlademan said that although only a small number have actually walked out so far, many more will participate in a Black Friday action.
Making Change at Walmart is a coalition of Walmart associates, union and community members working to change the retailer's practices.
Walmart workers and community leaders in many parts of the country have been calling on Walmart Chairman Rob Walton to address take-home pay so low that workers are forced to rely on public programs to support their families, and understaffing that keeps workers from receiving sufficient hours and also hurts customer service.
Walmart employs more than 1.4 million workers. They face rampant wage theft and health and safety violations so extreme that these have led to $600,000 in fines. A gender discrimination lawsuit has been filed on behalf of 100,000 women employees in California and Tennessee.
Organizing efforts began a year ago with the assistance of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which has devoted organizational time, resources and experience to the effort. But it has been the workers themselves who have decided enough is enough.
The first efforts began as workers at the Mira Loma, Calif., warehouse walked off the job last month, walking 50 miles to spread the word about the 120 degree weather in which they are forced to load and unload Walmart goods.
In Pico Rivera, Calif., Walmart workers went out on strike Oct. 4 - the first-ever strike in the giant retailer's 50 year history - to demand an end to retaliation against workers who speak out, including cuts in their hours .
Among the 70 workers who walked out was strike leader Evelin Cruz, who says many of the associates she works with have had their hours cut. "My staff has been cut in half," she said, "and it makes it difficult to meet customer service. Our schedules are not regular and this makes it hard on families because they don't know when they will be home. They can't afford extra childcare fees. They cannot plan family events because they will be asked to stay on longer and if they refuse they are threatened with losing their jobs."
Walmart warehouse workers in Illinois, facing similar working conditions, staged a 22-day strike. On Oct. 6 they announced that all those suspended or fired for organizing on the job were returning to their jobs, with full back pay for days they missed during the strike.
Readers can support the Walmart workers by signing an online declaration of solidarity.
Photo via Pico Rivera at For Respect, the workers' website.