November, 2013 was not a good month to be a Walmart corporate executive.
The headaches for the nation’s largest employer of low-wage workers began November 18, when the National Labor Relations Board found that Walmart illegally threatened, disciplined and fired employees over last year’s Black Friday strikes and protests. The finding was the first step in an NLRB complaint asserting that the retail giant violated workers’ rights.
The Black Friday protests have been a driving force behind the core demand by Walmart employees that the company raise the annual earnings for sales associates above the federal poverty line.
That NLRB bombshell soon snowballed into a public relations disaster when, on the same day, news broke that a Canton, Ohio Walmart store had instituted a Thanksgiving food drive on behalf of store employees unable to afford a holiday meal. The Canton story was subsequently credited with reigniting the congressional fight for the first increase in the national $7.25-per-hour minimum wage since 2007.
For a list of Black Friday actions planned nearest you, go to http://blackfridayprotests.org/
This Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, tens of millions of Americans will travel to Walmart stores to look for holiday discounts on computers, toys and cell phones as well as to buy groceries and basic household items. But at more than 1,500 of Walmart’s 4,000 stores, shoppers will be greeted by Walmart employees handing out leaflets and holding picket signs — “Walmart: Stop Bullying, Stop Firing, Start Paying” and “We’re Drawing a Line at the Poverty Line: $25,000/year” — protesting the company’s abusive labor practices, including poverty-level wages, stingy benefits and irregular work schedules that make it impossible for their families to make ends meet.
The Black Friday rallies and demonstrations represent a dramatic escalation of the growing protest movement among employees of America’s largest private employer. But they also represent the vanguard of a sharp challenge to the nation’s widening economic divide and the declining standard of living among the majority of Americans.
This Thanksgiving, Walmart decided to show its workers that it’s concerned for their families. First, the retailer required that employees work not only on Black Friday, but also Thanksgiving night this year as, once more, it plans to start its Black Friday sale Thursday evening. Second, Walmart knew that because its workers make such low wages and are often on food stamps, the company decided to collect canned food for them.
Yes, the food box scandal that you’ve read in the news over the past few days is true. Walmart workers have been scraping together food donations for – themselves! Even The Colbert Report covered the disgrace. All of this comes on the heels of Walmart workers having to strike due to retaliation for speaking out against low pay ($8.81 an hour!), insufficient hours and unaffordable health care.
On December 5, as part of its 20th anniversary celebration, the L.A. Alliance for a New Economy will honor OUR Walmart, an organization determined to transform conditions at the world’s largest retailer. Frying Pan News recently asked Walmart employee Martha Sellers, who has worked at the company’s Paramount store for 10 years, to reflect on her role in one of the most ambitious social justice efforts of our time.
Frying Pan News: If you could sit down for a one-on-one conversation with Walmart CEO Mike Duke, what would you say?
Martha Sellers: Explain to me why you cannot afford to pay us a living wage when it is proven you make mega bucks. Why?
You spend your money on all these things but your associates. Why?
You spend money on PR and opening more stores when the stores that are already open are not doing well.