Posts Tagged ‘Walmart workers’

Walmart encounters worker activism

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

By Elena Perez, Coordinator, Making Change at Walmart, Puget Sound Coalition & a PSARA member

Walmart intended 2012 to be an epic celebration of its 50th anniversary. It ended up as a year of indictment, with scandals and strikes highlighting five decades of Walmart running roughshod over workers’ rights and community laws and standards.

Several hard-fought years of organizing, education and mobilization led to this year’s historic successes. However, the achievements of 2012 must be seen as part of a long-term movement to fundamentally change the way the world’s largest employer does business. Clearly not an easy task, but one of great importance to the future of the American economy.

Less than two years ago, in 2010, the Making Change at Walmart, Puget Sound coalition was founded, along with a local chapter of the new independent workers’ association called OUR Walmart–Organization United for Respect at Walmart. Our coalition has now grown to over two dozen local organizations, including PSARA, and we are determined to challenge Walmart’s expansion in Puget Sound and support local workers’ demands for respect and a voice in their workplace.

Some of this year’s achievements of the Puget Sound coalition:

  • We stopped Seattle from adopting lower environmental standards that would have eased Walmart’s entry into city neighborhoods.
  • We stopped a King County process aimed at creating a new I-90 retail zone that would have set a precedent for runaway suburban big box development and opened the door to Walmart.
  • We kept a Walmart out of the South King County neighborhood of Skyway.
  • We put a spotlight on Promenade 23’s developer, Weingarten Realty, for considering replacing a locally-owned union grocer with Walmart.
  • We mobilized hundreds of allies to support local Walmart workers as they took action throughout the year.

OUR Walmart – Puget Sound had a momentous year, including:

  • Well-established, active membership at 25% of local stores in over 5 counties…and growing!
  • Relentless activism that has overturned unfair discipline and scheduling, addressed serious safety hazards, and spread their message to other workers that they, too, can have a voice at work through OUR Walmart.
  • Participating in local and national events to challenge Walmart, including: U.N. Responsible Investment meeting in Brazil; Walmart shareholders meeting in Bentonville; TPP Protest in Blaine; WSLC annual conference; and more.
  • For the first time in its history, Walmart faced national Black Friday strikes. Local workers engaged in multiple strikes, with every worker returning to work without incident.

Walmart workers still fear retaliation, but this year has demonstrated they can work through fear, act, and emerge stronger. The coalition has grown in number and breadth of leadership. We are better prepared to challenge Walmart’s expansion attempts in our region– especially its new small-footprint tool for penetrating urban centers, the “Neighborhood Market.”

Another notable development is Making Change at Walmart going global. Ongoing investigations of alleged bribery and corruption by Walmart in five different countries, and its role in opposing attempts in Bangladesh to improve fire safety in garment factories highlight the need for us to work together with unions and workers around the world. In October, we launched the UNI Global Union Walmart Alliance, an international network of Walmart workers pledging solidarity to change Walmart.

Workers shake up mighty Walmart – Prepare for action November 24!

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

By Mike Andrew

In a series of strikes spreading across several states, and involving hundreds of workers, Walmart employees are taking the initiative against unfair and unsafe working conditions.

The strikes began in June when immigrant “guest workers” shut down Walmart supplier CJ Seafoods in Louisiana. In July, the Department of Labor ruled in favor of the workers, demanding CJ Seafoods pay over $248,000 in back wages, fines, and penalties for wage theft and forced labor.

In September, Southern California warehouse workers walked out and set off on a 50-mile pilgrimage to dramatize issues within Walmart-controlled warehouses. By the end of the month, the strike had spread to warehouses in Illinois. Warehouse workers did not return to work till their employers agree to pay them for the 21 days they were out on strike.

On October 3, Walmart union members from around the world – including Argentina, Brazil, Central America, Chile, India, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, as well as OURWalmart members from the US – met in Los Angeles to form the Global Walmart Alliance.

The next day, more than 70 Walmart workers from Southern California walked out in protest against Walmart’s unfair labor practices in the first multi-store strike in†Walmart’s history. They returned to work the next day without incident.

On October 8, Walmart struck back with threats of legal action against pickets at its stores. In a letter to several UFCW locals and community allies, an attorney for Walmart said the company “reserves the right to pursue appropriate remedies with local law enforcement…”

On October 10, in a National Day of Action against Walmart, hundreds of striking workers converged on Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, to demand an end to threats of retaliation, and a response to their concerns of unfair, unsafe working conditions.

The Day of Action included a picket line at Walmart headquarters, a flashmob at Walmart’s original store, Walmart #1, and hundreds of actions across the nation by community, and labor allies.

Locally the Making Change at Walmart, Puget Sound coalition, including PSARA, led leafleting and delegations at Walmart stores throughout†our†region. In all, 185 people protested at 23 Walmart stores in a single day.

On October 13, Huffington Post published a leaked Walmart management memo revealing their fear of strikes and Unfair Labor Practice charges resulting from retaliation against strikers.

On October 17, Walmart employees in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, who had not previously been organized by OURWalmart, walked out of their local store with home-made signs protesting cuts in hours.

Walmart workers have promised that if retaliation against striking workers does not end, they will go ahead with another Day of Action on Black Friday, November 24 – the busiest day of the year for retailers.

To date only a small fraction of Walmart’s 1.4 million US employees have gone out on strike. But the work stoppages have been what UFCW campaign director Dan Schlademan calls “a strike of leaders” that promises future action. Each one of the strikers, Schladerman said, will mobilize more of their co-workers for the Black Friday actions.

By walking off the job together, Walmart workers sent a signal about their deep discontent, and – more important – about their capacity for collective action. They have already achieved historic gains in demonstrating their rights to organize and to defend themselves against retaliation by the employer. And they have set the stage for a new round of actions against unfair and unsafe conditions at Walmart.

Walmart campaign moves forward

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

By Mike Andrew

The Making Change at Walmart campaign took another step forward at a June 22 conference at the Machinist’s Hall.

OURWalmart (Organization United for Respect at Walmart), the Walmart employees’ organization, and UFCW 21 invited their community partners – including PSARA – to discuss the future course of the campaign in the Puget Sound area.

According to presentations at the conference, the greater Seattle area has definitely been slated for Walmart expansion.

The Promenade at 23rdand Jackson, Belltown, and Capitol Hill in Seattle, and a location in Skyway have all been identified as possible sites for new stores.

In addition to looking for new locations, Walmart has adopted a new expansion strategy, according to UFCW researchers.

Their “new profile” stores are now a modest 35 thousand to 65 thousand square feet, instead of the monster “big box” stores of the past, and urban core locations are now being targeted instead of suburban or rural strip mall locations.

In addition to the money Walmart customarily spends on advertising its stores, the corporation has invested huge sums in donations to local candidates, hoping to ease their entry into target markets. They have also donated heavily to non-profits in hopes of improving their corporate image.

The result has been to capture a growing market share in targeted cities. In Denver, for example, Walmart has taken an astounding 20% market share in groceries.

The result of Walmart’s entry into one of their target markets is that union stores are driven out or forced to cut wages and benefits to compete. Researchers estimate that the net wage loss from a single Walmart store might amount to $17 million.

Not only does that mean a significant loss in pay for retail workers – who could be paid as much as $3-$4 per hour less than in a unionized store – but it also means that workers have fewer dollars to spend in the surrounding community, so neighboring businesses suffer as well.

A Walmart expansion into Seattle could cost a $15 million loss in labor income, and a $13 million loss in economic output, according to Puget Sound SAGE.

As OUR Walmart members revealed at the conference, Walmart management does not use their profits to improve working conditions. In fact, they said, they regularly have to contend with broken equipment and unsafe conditions.

The strategy for dealing with the challenge of Walmart’s new expansion strategy must be two-fold, the conference determined.

On one hand, to support Walmart workers in their demands to make a living wage and be treated with respect on the job.

On the other hand, to demand that Walmart be a good neighbor in communities where in establishes its store. That includes signing community benefit agreements to guarantee that Walmart will help strengthen – instead of undermining – local economies.

According to OURWalmart members, some 400 Walmart stores now have employees participating in the organization. While many employees are still afraid of management, they said, an increasing number are taking a stand for their rights as workers, and they believe this number will only increase with community support.

The organizations attending the June 22 meeting  determined to be part of an ongoing community coalition to ensure that Walmart becomes a good employer and a good neighbor.