Black Friday Protest Puts Pressure On Walmart
On Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, the Organization for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) and allied groups called attention to Walmart’s low wages and austere working conditions at the downtown Walmart in Washington, DC.
It marked the fourth consecutive Black Friday activists organized against Walmart’s corporate policies, which they say take advantage of workers, while enriching the Waltons, majority shareholders of Walmart Corporation.
The Walton family is the wealthiest in the U.S. with over $148 billion, according to Forbes. Their fortune is equal to the combined wealth of 41% of American households.
The H Street Walmart in Washington, DC has become a popular location for protests because its front doors open onto city sidewalks, allowing easy access to the store.
This year about 200 Walmart employees organized a nationwide 15-day fast leading up to Black Friday. The novel tactic was dubbed “Fast For $15,” and began on November 12 to bring attention to Walmart employees struggling to put food on their table.
By keeping wages and benefits costs low, many Walmart employees rely on public assistance to help make ends meet. Walmart stores cost taxpayers on average between $904,000 and $1.75 million per super center each year, according to an analysis by Americans for Tax Fairness, for a total of $6.2. billion per year.
Cynthia Murray, a Walmart employee and member of OUR Walmart, objected to the reported surveillance of workers like her, who are organizing to improve benefits and work conditions. A story by Bloomberg News reported Walmart partnered with the FBI and hired Lockheed-Martin to track employees and activists keen on labor organizing.
“How does Walmart get off to pay the FBI and Lockheed-Martin to follow us? Really? What kind of a threat are we? We’re not terrorists. We just want better. We’re laborers,” said Murray.
Murray thinks a recent wage raise by Walmart to $9 per hour is not enough because shortened work week hours and frequent changes in shift schedules make it difficult for employees to juggle family responsibilities. This adds to worker stress, according to Murray.
Walmart has responsibilities to workers around the world due to its global reach, according to Judy Gearhardt, Executive Director of International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF).
Jessica Winter-Martin with Restaurant Opportunity Center, said a recent wage increase to $9 per hour was not enough, because minimum wage in the District is already $10.10 per hour. “They’re paying them the least they can here, and the least they can anywhere,” she said.
Winter-Martin believes the wage floor should be $15 per hour in all stores and restaurants across the country. “Both wage slavery and slavery are tied together as a whole,” she said.