For the first time in Walmart’s history, workers in a Los Angeles location staged an in-store sit-in holding signs and chanting. With Walmart Black Friday expected to start earlier than most other retailers this year, their business operations may be hindered by further protests and demonstrations. During the store’s Black Friday in 2013, the company had over 1,500 protests and nine different coordinated strikes.
The sit-in comes on the heels of a New York Times story revealing the retailer sent out a memo to all of its 4,965 stores admonishing poor grocery quality and lack of inventory. Stores across the U.S. report lack of Walmart workers, damaged and rotten foods, and lack of products on the shelves. Walmart’s chief executive, Doug McMillon said the company was aware of these problems and realized there was room to improve. As a result of the disarray and inability to maintain worker’s hours, sales and employee growth are slow. With this year’s Black Friday approaching, Walmart cannot afford for their store sales to be further hindered.
Today, around 9:30 am PST, the workers began chanting “Stand up, Live better. Sit down, live better.” This was followed by protesters sitting down near cash registers and racks of clothes. Many placed tape over their mouths and held signs reminiscent of an earlier and similar era in America’s history.
According to Dana Frank, a professor and author, in 1937, Woolworth’s had 100 of its women workers stage a successful sit-in after which they won higher wages, improved jobs, and better treatment. These are similar demands the Walmart strikers had today some 74 years later. One of the strikers, Kiana Howard said that she was protesting against “illegal fear tactics” being used to silence them and calling for “$15 an hour and full-time work schedules.” Other workers have complained about the company’s violation of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules. For Thanksgiving, one million workers were called in to work and promised extra pay. Due to subsequent schedule cuts leading up to the holiday of work, most workers did not see the additional income. Another former employee was fired for being pregnant. Entire stores have been closed after employees working there unionized.
The Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Maria Elena Derazo has said that the U.S. cannot continue allowing companies to get away with “destroying American values” by not paying workers a living wage and offering only punishment for those who request higher pay. The sit-in today was orchestrated by members of OurWalmart, an organization dedicated to helping workers exert their labor rights. A federal increase in the minimum wage would increase the average Walmart worker’s pay enough to not need government assistance programs many have to rely on. The proposed $10.10 nationally also falls short of the protesters’ demands.
With Walmart’s Black Friday starting at 6pm on Thanksgiving day, protesters today have promised additional in-store sit-ins if demands are not met which would further hinder sales. So far, Walmart has not been available for in-depth comment on what they plan to do to satisfy worker demands. Currently, the majority of Americans working for Walmart make less than $25,000 a year. For individuals with families, this amount puts them in near poverty levels despite the billions of dollars in wealth and revenue the company possesses.
By Didi Anofienem