Why we have to support the workers of Walmart on Black Friday… and beyond

Last night, Walmart warehouse and retail employees in Southern California walked off their jobs and began picketing. They were joined this morning by Walmart employees in Seattle. And, if all goes according to plan, a great many more will join them tomorrow, on Black Friday, when employees from over 1,000 Walmart stores are expected to walk out, take up placards, and begin marching. According to those behind the Making Change at Walmart campaign, which is, at least in part, being supported by the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, these walkouts are necessary for the following reasons.

…As the largest private employer in the United States and the world, Walmart is setting the standard for jobs. That standard is so low that hundreds of thousands of its employees are living in poverty—even many that work full time. The problems extend to workers who toil in unsafe working conditions in subcontracted warehouses. And also to workers in developing countries such as China and Bangladesh who make incredibly low wages while manufacturing the goods on Walmart’s shelves. That pulls down standards for workers in the United States and around the globe.

Because of its size and political influence, Walmart is affecting much more than just working conditions. Although it has gained much fanfare for its efforts in environmentalism, sustainability has mostly been a public relations campaign for Walmart. The company has written hundreds of press releases and thousands of blog posts, but made little actual progress in reducing the environmental impacts of its products and business.

And Walmart has an outsized impact on our food system. It is the largest and seller of food in this country. That gives Walmart influence over which foods are available to the public, the methods in which food is produced, and the prices paid to producers.

Across this country, in rural and suburban communities, there are too many small businesses to count who have closed their doors due to competition from Walmart. Now, Walmart has aggressively set its sights on the final frontier—large urban communities like New York City and Los Angeles.

The company is also a major contributor to widening gap between the very rich and everyone else. The average full time Walmart “associate” makes about $15,500 a year. And worse, Walmart is pushing more and more workers toward a permanent part-time status. Meanwhile, the six members of the Walton family—heirs to the Walmart fortune and near majority owners of the company—have a combined wealth of $93 billion. That’s more than the bottom 30% of Americans combined

According to the Corporate Action Network website, while there could be protests at several local Walmarts tomorrow, it looks as though the main ones in our area will be at the Walmart Supercenters in Bellville (10562 Belleville Road at 11:00 AM) and Dearborn (5851 Mercury Drive at 10:30 AM). If you know of others, please leave a comment.

For those of you who can’t make it out to support the strike in person, and take up a few parking parking spaces that could otherwise be used by Walmart shoppers, there are a few things that you can do to help. If you’re so inclined, you could, for instance, write a letter to Rob Walton and let him know that you won’t return to Walmart stores until they begin paying a living wage. (You might also want to ask him not to fire the Walmart employees who walk out this holiday season.) If you have the financial wherewithal, you can also make a cash contribution to the Stand Up, Live Better Fund, which will be supplying striking workers with food cards for their families. And, if you have a moment, you can help spread word of the strike online, asking your friends to join you in avoiding Walmart on Friday.

One last thing… I know that quite a few of you probably shop at Walmart because it’s cheap, and may not care that the company’s employees have been treated poorly, bullied, kept from organizing, etc. While I understand, given the state of the economy, that value is important, I’d ask you to consider the following… The price that you pay at the cash register, when you shop at Walmart, likely doesn’t reflect the true price that you’re paying… We, the tax payers of America, you see, essentially subsidize Walmart, by funding the public assistance programs that keep its poorly-paid employees alive. Walmart employees, more than those of any other company in America, are likely to be on food stamps and we pay the price for that… Following, with more on that subject, are a few facts pulled together by the Winning Words Project.

✔ Walmart’s intentionally low wages force employees to need approximately $420,000 per year, per store, totaling $2.66 BILLION annually in food stamps and other taxpayer assistance… to survive.

✔ Walmart’s intentionally low wages cost our communities the ability to hire and retain important public service workers like firefighters, police officers, maintenance workers, and teachers.

✔ Walmart’s intentionally low wages and lack of covered benefits cost taxpayers over $1.02 BILLION a year in healthcare costs.

✔ Walmart’s intentionally low wages cost taxpayers as much as $225 MILLION in free and reduced price lunches for school-age children.

✔ Walmart’s intentionally low wages cost taxpayers over $780 MILLION in tax deductions for low-income families.

And, here, if you still need convincing, are Walmart workers explaining, in their own words, why they think action is necessary.

Here’s hoping them the best of luck. The Walton family, in the past, has responded harshly to such attempts. One hopes that this time it’s different, and that those who walk out won’t immediately lose their jobs.

[note: If you’re interested in following the movement, you can do so on both Facebook and Twitter.]

[note: And, as long as you’re not shopping at Walmart tomorrow, why not just not shop anywhere at all, and join those of us who will be celebrating Facebook and Buy Nothing Day?]

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  1. Occupy Ypsi
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    Join strikers at Walmart this black Friday at 10am in Ypsilanti on Ellsworth.

    10 to noon.
    2515 Ellsworth Rd. Ypsilanti, MI 48197

    It may be good for Sam Walton’s heirs and for Walmart shareholders but America…not so much. Friends, please go elsewhere, and never ever shop at Walmart- ever.

    The Waltons who own Walmart and Sam’s Club are 6 of the 10 richest people in the entire world, yet they pay their workers peanuts. Most of their workers qualify for food stamps and welfare, and do not receive health care benefits. Shopping at Walmart costs America. Go elsewhere: Kmart, Meijer, ANYWHERE!!!!


  2. Tommy
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    I agree100% with this initiative. However,this is who we are battling: from this morning’s AA dot com … “To be honest, I’d rather be at home with my family, but for the prices, it’s worth it,” she continued…

    No, mam, itisnot worth it

  3. anonymous
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    we need one of these on water street!!! next to the family dollar!!!!

  4. anonymous
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    I don’t have a reference, but I hear that 80% of Wal-Mart employees require food stamps to feed their family. If the Republicans are really concerned about the number of Americans on food stamps, as they claim to be, it seems to me that Walmart would be a good place to start.

  5. Mr. X
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Black Friday is an appropriate monicker.

    Don’t shop today. And, if you have to shop at a big box retailer tomorrow, visit Costco instead of Walmart.


  6. ypsijav
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Gee, I’m sure glad the occupy movement has “evolved” from z bunch of “smelly anarchists” camping out in lower manhattan to protest Wall Street’s crimes into a respectable organization telling people to change the world by shopping at K-mart instead of Wal-mart.

  7. Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    “visit Costco instead of Walmart”

    how about not visiting either?

    If one wants to spend money (spent money is someone else’s income), there are plenty of fine places to do it…. and they need the money.

  8. Mr. X
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I wasn’t telling people to shop at Costco, Peter. I was merely saying that not all big box retailers are created even. Costco pays a living wage, and, from what I understand, treats their people well. (The CEO of Costco also campaigned for Obama.) I was merely acknowledging the fact that, like it or not, some people will choose to shop at these kinds of stores, and mentioning to those people that Costco is a better alternative. I would agree, however, that shopping at locally-owned stores is better.

    And YpsiJav, are you suggesting that people not support this strike because it’s not ambitious enough? Walmart is the largest employer in the United States. This is a huge fight, and one that could have very real implications for millions of people. I’d argue that this is exactly the kind of practical engagement that people aligned with the Occupy movement should be contributing toward. What would you prefer? Do you want to close down every K-Mart, Costco and Walmart, replacing them with worker-owned coops? While I nice idea, that’s not likely going to happen. Getting Walmart to pay a living wage, and hiring more full-time workers, however, might. Whether you perceive it as a small step or a giant step, it’s still a step in the right direction. Can we agree on that?

  9. Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    “I ate my turkey dinner and came right here,” said Rasheed Ali, a 23-year-old student in New York City who bought a 50-inch Westinghouse TV for $349 and a Singer sewing machine for $50. “Then I’m going home and eating more.”

  10. ypsijav
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I am totally supportive of this strike against Wal-Mart, I just think it is a little ridiculous that Occupy Ypsi is suggesting K-mart as an alternative. Yes, I would love to replace every big-box store with a worker-owned co-op. I agree that isn’t very likely to happen. I agree that getting Wal-Mart to pay their employees a living wage would be a giant step in the right direction, but I don’t think that’s likely to happen either. Please let me know if there are any other unreasonable caricatures of opinions you believe me to hold that I can clear up for you.

  11. Meta
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Congressman-elect Alan Grayson showed up at Walmart late last night to speak with striking workers.


  12. Meta
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    “A half century ago America’s largest employer was General Motors, whose full-time workers earned an average hourly wage of around $50, in today’s dollars, including health and pension benefits. Today, an average Walmart employee earns $8.81 an hour.”


  13. anonymous
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Based on what I’m reading here, the average Walmart worker, making $8.81 an hour, still does better than the average Family Dollar worker. Maybe we should picket them when they open on Water Street.

  14. ypsijav
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Average K-mart cashier wage = $7.59
    Average Target cashier wage = $7.96
    (According to IBISWorld)
    Costco pays a lot more.

  15. Posted November 23, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Costco apparently pays $17 an hour.

    The problem for me is that they don’t sell anything I’d want to buy.

  16. Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I’m a Meijers fan from way back. I worked there the summer b/w high school & college and then again between college & law school. They were and are a union shop and I still remember how the old school cashiers made $25/hour (locked in under their contract). At the time, Meijers paid several dollars more than minimum wage and I imagine they still might. (Compare this with the two days that I worked at Target…minimum wage and they would schedule you for a 5 hour shift meaning you only got one break; however, they could keep you there for hours past closing because you couldn’t leave until everything was done. Those two awful days saw me working almost 8 hours with only the one break. Luckily, I was a punk college kid and quit immediately; I know others are not so lucky).

    I’m sure the Meijer family are probably some whacked out right wing nut jobs, but I have never heard of them treating their employees unfairly. Has anyone else?

  17. Demetrius
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    For what it is worth — unlike Walmart, Target or K-Mart — Meijer employees in Michigan are represented by the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW). Therefore, Meijer employees’ hourly wages (while nothing stellar) are modestly better than at competing stores — plus Meijer workers receive overtime pay for working more than 40 hours, double pay for working holidays and reasonable health insurance, paid vacation, sick days, etc. — making it at least a somewhat more worker-friendly choice.

  18. Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    After reading this article, I have a bit more respect.


  19. JC
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Jason, anyone can use the name “Occupy Ypsi” as a nom de plume in a comments section.

    I agree with you that to critique WalMart yet promote K-Mart is problematic.

    If you continue to feel malice, will you email me backchannel: jc@quemadura.net

  20. ypsijav
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Jesus Christ, that text is copy/pasted from Occupy Ann Arbor’s Facebook announcement. I was also referring to Mark’s continued mocking of the Occupy movement’s political underpinnings, “hoping the anarchists don’t show up” and most recently in the first paragraph of this post:


  21. Meta
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    Context from Salon.

    Part of why the recent actions are so remarkable is that Wal-Mart is one of the most notoriously anti-union companies in the country. Based in right-to-work Arkansas, the retailer has maintained an almost entirely union-free workforce for most of its existence, even once resorting to shutting down a store in Quebec shortly after a successful union drive there. The company has never before dealt with coordinated labor protest on this scale. “In the past, Wal-Mart would fire people, would threaten people … and that would be enough to stop people in their tracks,” said Dan Schlademan, director of Making Change at Walmart, another organization backed by the UFCW which works closely with OUR Walmart. “The difference now is workers are using Wal-Mart’s own tactics to challenge the company and not backing down. Really, for the first time in Wal-Mart’s history, the tools that are used to keep people silent and under control are now being used against them. That’s significant.”

    Indeed, OUR Walmart has framed its strikes and the upcoming Black Friday action as an “unfair labor practice strike”—that is, as a response to the company’s alleged retaliation against employees. Workers have already filed a handful of unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board—the independent federal agency that governs labor relations in the private sector. While Wal-Mart employees aren’t unionized, they’re still covered under the National Labor Relations Act, which protects the right of nonunion workers to go on an unfair labor practice strike without being permanently replaced.

    Venanzi Luna, a deli manager at the Wal-Mart in Pico Rivera, California, said she’s witnessed management retaliate against her co-workers. At Luna’s store, where she and some of her co-workers went on strike in October, workers have filed two unfair labor practice charges. “If an associate speaks out, they retaliate by taking their hours, not giving them full-time hours, they write them up, they can ‘coach’ them,’” Luna says. “It’s the little things that that they do, whatever they can file, anything for them to retaliate against associates that are either part of OUR Walmart or speak out against [Wal-Mart]. They’ve gotten to the point where they’ve fired associates because of it.”

    When asked to address those allegations, Fogleman said that the company has “strict policies prohibiting retaliation.” He adds: “If someone feels they have been retaliated against, we want to know about it, so we can look into it and take the appropriate actions to resolve the situation,” Fogleman says.

    Read more:

  22. Mark K
    Posted November 24, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Working at Walmart is a entry level job, it is not a good career choice. If you’re trying to raise a family working at Walmart you aren’t making good choices in your life.

  23. Posted November 24, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Two questions, MK.

    1. Do you feel as though it’s alright for the largest corporation in America, which is incredibly profitable, to pass along their costs to U.S. taxpayers?

    2. If not, do you think that we should stop paying for the food stamps of these individuals, allowing them and their families to go hungry?

  24. Posted November 24, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    I can only speak for Adrian, MI, but there’s not a whole lot of other jobs opportunities down there.

    I don’t think that many of the lowest paid at Wal-Mart “choose” to work there. I’m sure if Mark K or anyone else has some better ideas, a lot of people would be happy to listen.

    This reminds me of when unemployment was starting to creep up. People were saying “just got get a job at McDonalds.” The genius’ at the Chicago Board of Trade even rained McD’s apps down on OWS protesters.

    McD’s subsequently opened up 50,000 jobs in April 11 and got more than a million applicants.

  25. Posted November 24, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think working at Walmart is a poor choice; I think it’s a pit you can’t climb out of.

    Walmart, a frigging RETAIL store, is the biggest employer in the United States. Paying higher wages will allow its workers to to access higher education, become semi-skilled, skilled, or professional workers, and hopefully shift America’s workforce from that of unskilled employees into a more competitive workforce. Quality of life goes up. If you offer more to your employees, they can actually be given the opportunity to MAKE choices. Good choices. Then, Walmart (thank Jesus) will not have to be the biggest employer in the effing United States.

  26. Brainless
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    I know it’s not an incredibly popular opinion here and the guy who threw applications out the window is a dick, but McDonalds has a reputation for promoting from within. Their managers come from their line workers and so on. For someone who is coming from nothing, they honestly will teach you everything. Yeah you start by cleaning bathrooms but you can indeed work your way up to manager with healthcare and the whole nine yards. They are not Walmart.

  27. Posted November 25, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    While we’re comparing large grocery chains, a majority of Kroger employees are union members, with UFCW and Teamsters being the biggest.

  28. Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink


    The comment was intended to show that certain people are disconnected from reality, not to criticize McDonald’s.

    People say to the unemployed, “just go work at McDonalds” but the jobs don’t exist.

    People say working at Wal Mart is a “bad choice” but other options don’t exist. This is especially true in rural America.

    Alan Grayson went to Wal Mart and handed out turkey sandwiches.


  29. Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    And while we’re on the subject:

    “Throughout the campaign, President Obama lamented the so-called skills gap and referenced a study claiming that nearly 80 percent of manufacturers have jobs they can’t fill. Mitt Romney made similar claims….

    Eric Isbister, the C.E.O. of GenMet, received 1,051 applications and found only 25 people who were qualified. He hired all of them, but soon had to fire 15. Part of Isbister’s pickiness, he says, comes from an avoidance of workers with experience in a “union-type job.” At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance. From what I understand, a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour.

    The secret behind this skills gap is that it’s not a skills gap at all. I spoke to several other factory managers who also confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs. “It’s hard not to break out laughing,” says Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center, referring to manufacturers complaining about the shortage of skilled workers. “If there’s a skill shortage, there has to be rises in wages,” he says. “It’s basic economics.” After all, according to supply and demand, a shortage of workers with valuable skills should push wages up. Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of skilled jobs has fallen and so have their wages.”


  30. Posted November 25, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I was just reading this, Pete. It’s a great article. Thanks for sharing it.

  31. Posted November 25, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think that “buying nothing” is an effective means of doing anything at all.

    Your spending is someone else’s income and vice versa. Unless you live a subsistence lifestyle, its hard to make an argument that supports restricting spending. I don’t think that “Buy Nothing Day” would even cause a depression (as there’s just not enough people to be able to participate), but mass refusal to spend would do just that.

    No spending means no income means no tax revenue means no school means no health care means no roads means no, well…. nothing.

    A more constructive suggestion is to “buy responsibly” and put your money in places where it will actually mean something.

    I think I say this on this blog every single year, and it falls on deaf Mark Maynard ears. I would assume that Mark Maynard, well familiar with the importance of commerce, would understand this.

  32. Brainless
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Hey Pete, no shit. My comment was ALSO about people being disconnected from reality. You’re kind of a pompous twit, college boy. You must be gas at parties.

    But hey, when trying to back up one of your brilliant points, just pick any available target. They’re all the same, right? Your “us and them” mentality is like some sort of Freudian childrens cartoon it’s so one-dimensional.

  33. Posted November 26, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    You are very entertaining.

  34. Anonymous
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Just in case you missed this headline.

    Over 500 Bangladesh clothes factories for Walmart, H&M, Tesco & others declare wild-cat “holiday”, fearing rising protests against bad labor conditions – Garment workers demanding end to “deathtraps” after new blaze sparks fresh panic & terror following worst-ever textile factory fire in country.


  35. Meta
    Posted November 27, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    It’s being estimated that 500 Walmart employees walked out.

    At least 500 Walmart workers walked off their jobs, according to a preliminary count, Making Change At Walmart Campaign Director Dan Schlademan said, making it the largest U.S. strike in the history of Walmart.

    The actions formed the climax of a crescendo of strikes and protests by Walmart workers in both warehouses and retail stores that started in September and continued through to the eve of Black Friday’s nationwide onslaught. For example, on the preceding Saturday–November 17–workers at a giant Walmart distribution center in Elwood, Ill., met up with a delegation of about 20 community supporters associated with Warehouse Workers for Justice, who brashly walked into the cavernous warehouse. Together they presented similar demands for respect, improved working conditions and and end to retaliation to a silent, seething supervisor.

    At least 150 workers from all the subcontractor staffing agencies in the building had signed, a big step forward from September when only about 30 workers from a single contractor struck against unfair labor practices by management, successfully winning improvements and returning to work with back pay. But some managers apparently learn slowly and fired four of the workers as they presented the petition, even though such collective activity is protected under federal labor law.

    Walmart minimized the strike, noting that few workers out of the 1.4 million U.S. employees had left work, claiming absenteeism was less than last year and sales higher for the day (as might have been expected with an improving economy). But Walmart clearly was worried. Managers delivered messages attacking OUR Walmart in mandatory meetings with workers (often excluding known OUR Walmart supporters). The corporation also filed highly questionable charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against the UFCW.

    OUR Walmart fired back, citing threats that Walmart spokesman David Tovar made on television that “there could be consequences” for any striker (consequences that might include individual lawsuits against any strikers if the store lost sales, according to worker accounts of some store managers’ threats).

    Read more:

  36. Meta
    Posted December 5, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    “At a 2011 safety meeting, Wal-Mart said paying Bangladesh suppliers more to help them upgrade their manufacturing facilities was too costly. A fire at a Bangladesh factory that made clothes for Wal-Mart killed more than 100 last month.”

    Read more:

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] definitely positive signs with regard to labor organizing. What just happened a few days ago with the Walmart walk-out strike was encouraging. But, at the same time, I think union membership is at an all time low, isn’t […]

  2. […] Not only does the corporation routinely, as part of its standard human resources protocol, direct its poorly-paid employees to various state and federal assistance programs, but, in at least one Ohio store this holiday season, they’ve resorted to asking their […]

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