ORLANDO, Fla. - Students from the University of Central Florida staged a solidarity action at a Casselberry, Fla., Walmart, the same day that 200 Walmart workers protested at the company's annual investors meeting at its Bentonville, Ark., headquarters. The next day, 75 Walmart workers protested at a Walmart Supercenter in South Florida.
The action, organized by the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) at UCF (a group sponsored by Jobs with Justice) occurred on Oct. 10. This was the day after OURWalmart, a project of the United Food and Commercial Workers, held one-day strikes at 28 Walmart stores across the country, including in Dallas, Miami, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, to highlight company retaliation against its members. The students handed out around 100 fliers to Walmart workers and customers before they were asked to leave by store management.
The flyer asked, "Why is Walmart Trying to Silence its Workers?" referring to what OURWalmart says are "unfair disciplinary actions, cutbacks in hours, and even firings" of workers who have joined the group for better wages, benefits, working conditions, and respect on the job.
The students' ejection "shows that we're doing the right thing, and that we're calling them out on something that they don't want people to know about," said Tyler Wright, of SLAP. "If people were aware of how much money they make and how much the Walton family makes, they would be disgusted and they would fight for worker justice as well."
The organizing by the Walmart workers "is the cutting edge of the labor movement right now," said Patrick Foote, of SLAP. "Walmart is the biggest employer in the country and they have some of the lowest and most stagnant wages in the country, and that needs to change."
The students also had a letter from Jobs with Justice to Rob Walton, chair of the Walmart board. Rob Walton is one of six heirs to the fortune amassed by his father, company founder Sam Walton. The Walton family members are worth more than $100 billion combined, according to The Walmart 1%.
Walmart managers refused to accept the letter, which has four sets of demands, including that the company raise its retail workers' wages to $25,000 annually, provide them and its U.S. distribution chain workers with "quality, affordable health coverage," and agree to "a global labor agreement guaranteeing" the right of Walmart workers to organize.
According to makingchangeatwalmart.org, the average wage for a Walmart "associate" is $8.81 per hour (citing a study by Bloomberg News). This means that a full-time Walmart worker (which the company defines as 34 hours per week) would make around $15,500 a year before taxes. By contrast, Walmart CEO and President Mike Duke enjoyed a compensation package worth $18.1 million in 2011, reports The Walmart 1%.
Healthcare also is unaffordable for many Walmart workers. Makingchangeatwalmart.org notes that "for employees earning $8.81/hour working an average of 34 hours per week, some of Walmart's 2012 healthcare plans would cost between 77 percent and 104 percent of the employee's annual gross income."
Around 200 Walmart workers participated in a protest outside the company's annual investors meeting on Oct. 10, reported Salon.com.
Lori Amos, a 13-year Walmart employee who traveled from Seattle for the Bentonville protest, told Arkansas radio station KNWA: "We're here so that the people that work hard every day, are actually respected and given the money that they need to take care of their families for the honest work that they give Walmart. We also have our hours cut, there's safety issues in our stores. We aren't given a living wage."
Walmart invited the protestors to have individual meetings with representatives from its human resources department, but OURWalmart refused, choosing instead to express their grievances en masse to the HR personnel. "When we meet individually we're bullied, and targeted," Amos told the station. "They don't stand up to what they say. They don't take what they tell us and take it to the managers of the stores."
The next day, Oct. 11, about 75 South Florida Walmart workers held a protest near a Walmart Supercenter in Hallandale Beach, Fla., a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, reports the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
During the two-hour action, the workers carried signs with slogans such as "Stop Silencing Workers Who Speak Out," "Respect Walmart Workers," "Stop Cutting Hours," and "Everyday Low Wages."
Many of the workers were members of OURWalmart. Christopher Heslop, an overnight stocker at a Miami Gardens Walmart, told the newspaper: "I've seen people get fired for speaking up. When I speak out to management, they never respond or even explain why they didn't respond. I get nothing resolved, no matter who I talk to."
Heslop was among the protestors who had just returned from protesting at the investors' meeting.
Striking worker Colby Harris, from Dallas, told Salon.com that if Walmart fails to address OURWalmart's demands: "We will make sure that Black Friday is memorable for them." Harris said their tactics would include "strikes, leafleting to customers, and 'flash mobs.'"
Salon.com also reported that Dan Schlademan, a UFCW official, said that to head off another black eye on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, Walmart would "at a minimum" need "to end the retaliation" and reinstate workers who have been fired for their OURWalmart activities.
Curtis Hierro, of SLAP, said the group is "definitely planning" to do another solidarity action on Black Friday in alignment with JWJ's "Change Walmart, Change America" campaign, should OURWalmart decide to strike that day.
Photo: Ben Markeson/PW