As Americans descended on big-box stores to take advantage of Black Friday, protests took place at 1,600 Walmart locations across the country, with calls for the Bentonville, Ark.-based mega-retailer to pay associates at least $15 an hour and provide full-time work. According to the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), a nonprofit organization made up of present and former associates, the majority of its workers earn under $25,000 a year.
In addition to labor events held at stores in Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Denver; and North Bergen, N.J., OUR Walmart members continued a nationwide strike in protest of what they say is the company's illegal retaliation against associates who lobby for better jobs. Actions included fasts, sit-down strikes, live music and singing. Members of the clergy also delivered a symbolic food bin to represent Walmart associates' claims that they must rely on food banks and pantries to feed themselves and their families.
Since Black Friday 2013, the company has committed to raise wages, introduced a new scheduling system that enables workers to sign up for open shifts, and improved protections for pregnant associates, all of which OUR Walmart has attributed to its public education campaign relating to these matters, although Walmart has denied that there is any connection.
Workers at more than 2,200 Walmart stores across the United States have signed a petition calling on Walmart to publicly commit to paying $15 an hour and providing consistent, full-time hours. Other issues cited by OUR Walmart, which receives technical and strategic support from the United Food and Commercial Workers union, include chronic understaffing at stores, which leads to food waste, unstocked shelves, long checkout lines and lost sales.
Walmart countered that the group was exaggerating its influence. "Perception is never reality with labor unions," said Brooke Buchanan, the retailer's senior director, corporate communications. "The crowds are mostly made up of paid union demonstrators, and they do not represent our 1.3 million associates who do work for Walmart in the U.S. This is our busiest time of the year. We're excited to kick off the holiday season and are focused on serving our customers. It's unfortunate that this group attempts to disrupt the holiday spirit to push their agenda. The reality is that Walmart is focused every day on providing our associates with opportunities for job growth."
Buchanan described Walmart's Black Friday activities as "awesome" and noted that fewer associates called in absent for the occasion than on a typical day, indicating that they "are excited to be there for our customers at this special time, and they are not joining in made-for-TV demonstrations in any meaningful way."