Walmart workers begin first in-store sitdown strike in company history

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LOS ANGELES - At 12:30 ET today, OUR Walmart members, some of whom were part of the first Walmart strike in October 2012, have just sat down near registers and next to racks of a Walmart store in Crenshaw near here. The group of striking workers, from stores throughout California, has placed tape over their mouths signifying the company's illegal efforts to silence workers who are calling for better jobs. Even as the mega-retailer brings in $16 billion inannual profits and Walmart's owners build on their $150 billion in wealth, the majority of Walmart workers are paid less than $25,000 a year.

"Stand Up, Live Better!  Sit Down, Live Better!" the group chanted before sitting down.

Workers are holding signs resembling those of the first retail sit-down strike at Woolworth in 1937, when retail workers at the then-largest retailer in the country called for the company to increase pay, provide a 40-hour work week and stop the retaliation against workers who spoke out.

"I'm sitting down on strike today to protest Walmart's illegal fear tactics and to send a message to management and the Waltons that they can't continue to silence us and dismiss the growing calls for $15 an hour and full-time work that workers are raising across the country," said Kiana Howard, a mother and Walmart striker.

"Walmart and the Waltons are making billions of dollars from our work while paying most of us less than $25,000 a year," Howard continued. "We know that Walmart and the Waltons can afford fair pay, and we know that we have the right to speak out about it without the company threatening the little that we do have."  

To date, workers at more than 2,100 Walmart stores nationwide have signed a petition calling on Walmart and the Waltons to publicly commit to paying $15 an hour and providing consistent, full-time hours. After taking the petition to members of the Walton family, supporters committed to returning to stores on Black Friday if jobs aren't improved by then.  

"Walmart is a giant engine creating vast wealth for one family and heartbreaking poverty for many working families, just like Woolworth's in the 1937, when 100 young women in Detroit sat down and occupied a Woolworth's store, and won wage increases and many other demands," said Dana Frank, an expert on the U.S. labor movement, professor of history at University of California, Santa Cruz and the author of Women Strikers Occupy Chain Store, Win Big: The 1937 Woolworth's Sit-Down. "The strike was enormously popular, because it struck a chord in the public: Woolworth's, like Walmart, was paying its workers poverty wages, but raking in spectacular profits that the public knew about. In Crenshaw today, as brave Walmart workers sit down to protest the company's threats against employees who speak out for better jobs, it's time for Walmart to finally heed the  growing movement calling on it to improve jobs and respect working people."

"We cannot continue to allow our country's largest private employer to pay workers so little that they can't put food on the table for their families and then punish those who speak up about it. Walmart's actions are immoral, illegal and they are destroying the American values that we all hold dear," said Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.  

The sit-down strike comes on the heels of a New York Times story on how persistent understaffing at Walmart stores is contributing to wasted food, un-stocked shelves and lower sales. For the past three years, workers have been raising concerns about understaffing and theimpact on the company's wellbeing with managers, shareholders and executives. Investors and analysts are also reacting today to the company's third-quarter financial reports, which indicate that persistent staffing problems are keeping the company from improving customer traffic and growing the business.

Hundreds of community supporters plan to join striking workers later this evening at 5 p.m. outside the Walmart store located at 8500 Washington Blvd in Pico Rivera, where the first protests against Walmart's illegal retaliation were held in 2012.

Photo: Twitter, OURWalmart Black Friday Protests