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Walmart’s At It Again: 100 Employees Arrested for Trying to Organize

Walmart’s At It Again: 100 Employees Arrested for Trying to Organize

Members of OUR WalMart, a group fighting to improve working conditions for WalMart employees, staged actions across the country last week to draw attention to their cause, with police arresting 100 protesters in more than ten cities. Using a combination of innovative civil disobedience, flash mobs, marches and more, members protested WalMart’s retaliatory actions directed at union organizers, including firings and suspensions of workers involved in labor organizing.

Under the law, workers have the right to organize, but WalMart isn’t interested in playing by the rules. When members of OUR Walmart organized a strike in June, the company responded by firing and suspending workers for failing to report for work, even though they had informed their supervisors that they were participating in a strike. This is a classic tactic in response to worker organizing: companies hope that by targeting high-profile organizers, they can quash a local union organizing attempt in the nascent stages by eliminating the people who can pull it together and intimidating other workers.

What happened in response wasn’t quite what WalMart was hoping for, because OUR Walmart took it as a personal challenge. Instead of having employees walk off the job, though, they had people dance, sing, march and rally in support of the workers. Former workers entered WalMart stores to “Step for Justice” (see the video below) while members of the public including clergy, union activists and more joined them as backup.

OUR Walmart has an interesting and innovative organizational strategy that demonstrates the labor movement is still flexible, ready to adapt to the times and prepared to do what it takes to secure better conditions for workers. Supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers, it asks dues of only $5 per month and has a highly decentralized strategy. Workers anywhere can start their own local movements, get resources from the parent organization and participate at any level. OUR Walmart also focuses on getting results fast with a fast-striking (no pun intended) approach that puts WalMart on the defensive rather than waiting for the store to respond to requests for negotiations.

What members want isn’t so unreasonable: $13/hour (still below the living wage in many places), affordable health care, a system for handling grievances and adequate hours. And they’re threatening that if WalMart doesn’t respond by Black Friday, the store may be facing the most ferocious organized labor action it has ever seen. That threat may not be empty; thanks to growing labor organizing across the United States, workers are more determined than ever before when it comes to their rights, and they’re turning out in solidarity with each other in front of fast food restaurants, retail stores and more.

WalMart might need to rethink its stance on respect in the workplace, or it could be looking at a Black Friday nightmare. A disruption of business on one of the most important retail days of the year could pose a serious problem, even for a company as wealthy as WalMart, and the resulting public relations disaster could be difficult to recover from, even with expert consultants ready to handle it.

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Photo credit: Neon Tommy.

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137 comments

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3:12PM PDT on Sep 13, 2013

Also, we don't have to rely on conjecture and economic predictions to know that Wal-Mart and other employers are capable of paying their employees more with charging outrageous prices. Look right across the northern border, or over the Atlantic. Most of their minimum wag laws are significantly higher than ours. In some countries being as high as the equivalent of 15 american dollars per hour. It didn't crash their economies and everyone can still afford to shop at supermarkets. In fact most of their economies are MORE stable than ours.

3:05PM PDT on Sep 13, 2013

The Wal-Mart Ceo's are brilliant. They've been making a killing on the backs of the American taxpayers and impoverished employees for a very long time, destroying small business and driving down local economies, all while having legislators and much of the American public firmly believe they were helping them by providing (overworked, unapreciated, underpayed, unsustainaible) jobs and (poor quality) cheap products. That they pulled it off for so long is nothing short of brilliant marketing strategy.
Unfortunately for them, history has shown that there is a limit to how far the exploited workers can be pushed before society rebels, and they are proving too stubborn to realize that we are at the breaking point. Let us hope society and those in power have the wherewithal to make changes before dam breaks.
On the subject of budgeting. I haven't shopped at Wal-Mart in years. I've managed to convince my immediate family to stop shopping there as well. Most foods are actually cheaper at Farmer's Markets and Fish Markets than they are at Wal-Mart. I did have to cut most red meats and poultry out of my diet but it is possible to stop supporting vicious cycle and still eat well. Unfortunately you do have to have cash to shop at most farmer's markets, so this information won't help many of the most impoverished.

3:25PM PDT on Sep 12, 2013

Why are the Walmart CEOs so dumb? Almost 100 years ago Henry Ford figured out that if you pay your workers a living wage than they will be able to save to buy a car. So then you sell cars to the many instead of the few and make way more money.

Their treatment of their workers creates bad public relations.

Plus, it is perfectly possible for company to treat their workers well and still make decent profits. Cosco which sells the same type of products as Walmart has proved tha.

2:09PM PDT on Sep 12, 2013

To Deborah H - the poor people don't always buy the cheap plastic goods as you call hem, but the OTC drugs, shampoos, lotions ,toothpastes and brushes, etc all name brands, sare dollars cheaper - dollars, not cents. In this economy we need to use every dollar we get cautiously. If I saved a dollar it can be used for food, maybe even rent a Redbx movie once every few months.

This is especially critical for seniors who are now giving up cable because they can't even afford the basic - M TV died and I couldn't afford a new one so no more cable. Theoney I saved has now been mostly taken by yearly rent increases - on a fixed income where do you get te money?? I didn't get the internet, or even a computer, until two yrs later. If I didn't have credit cards I doubt very much I'd be able to afford that.

2:00PM PDT on Sep 12, 2013

Dagmar B.--No matter what WalMart told you, you do have the right to unionize. I understand that they would fire you, and you don't want to lose your job, but as an American you certainly do have the right. I also work for a company, a grocery chain, that is not unionized. Some years ago, when the union tried to get in, they buffaloed the employees into rejecting it. I didn't work for them at that time. However, no matter how often they try to badmouth the union, they recognize the fact that the workers do have the right to organize if they so choose. Since I am close to being out of there--about two years--I won't push it anymore.

I won't boycott WalMart because I just really can't afford to do so. Still, I won't be spending as much as I have been there. Thought the flash mob was just great, and they timed it right. They left the store before the police got there.

2:00PM PDT on Sep 12, 2013

Too many Americans need cheap plastic junk imported from China. A lot of people's complaints can be tied to how they spend their money.

"Why do my taxes keep increasing every year? I can't afford this increase in taxes."
"Why are there no jobs in my area? It is so hard to find work."
"Why does it seem like I am making less? I haven't received a pay raise in years."
"Why is everything cheap plastic junk from China?"
"Why is the economy so bad?"

Large employers are running smaller employers out of town and abusing the welfare systems. People would rather shop at corporations like Walmart than small stores that offer American made goods to save a buck when in reality, they are spending more because of the social implications. People end up concentrating their wealth to a few people because they believe in the "invisible hand theory," which is taught in schools. Kids are taught to spend at specific stores when they go to schools and from their parents.

The wealthy rarely give back to the poor in the form of descent livable wages and benefits. These corporations also buy politicians so they can further their profits. In the end, everyone caused this problem and everyone loses but the corporations.

1:01PM PDT on Sep 12, 2013

If you and I can afford to boycott Walmart....I say GOOD FOR US!

Unfortunately, their parking lot is almost always full when I drive by and I think too many Americans need the low prices.

Publicizing this issue will get peoples' attention....don't you just LOVE that ''drill team?"

12:54PM PDT on Sep 12, 2013

We have a right to union? That's not what the Wal-mart I work at told me. They told me in orientation and every employee at orientation that if you try to unionize that you will be terminated.

9:13AM PDT on Sep 12, 2013

Every year the waltons add to their wealth. Every year the waltons refuse to pay their employees a living wage. SO, I SAY, F-U w-m.

9:10AM PDT on Sep 12, 2013

Not a surprise, I'm glad the union has come up with innovative ways to fight.

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