MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL This is a historic day for Wal-Mart
(NYSE:WMT), the world’s largest private employer. At Store No. 2866 in Pico Rivera, California, several employees have walked off the job and are staging a one-day work stoppage protest, the first in the company's US history.
The campaign marks an escalation in tensions at the Southern California supercenter where workers say they've been punished for making attempts to organize and demand better pay. Employees claim Wal-Mart management has cut the hours of those who have been vocal with complaints.
“I’m tired of the company retaliating against us when we speak out, when we have concerns,” says Manuela Rosales, 25, in a phone interview from the rally site.
Rosales has been working at Wal-Mart for two years. She says her hourly wage is not enough to support her life with her two-year-old son. “Me personally, as a single mom, it’s very hard. I go day-by-day with my paycheck, and sometimes I have to take loans. I don’t think I should have to do that. And I don’t want to go for welfare, either. Why would I go to welfare when I work for a company that could pay me more? A company that makes billions and billions of dollars?”
As of noon PST, there were between 10 and 15 supercenter employees campaigning outside the Pico Rivera location. They’ve were joined by dozens of warehouse employees, who are not Wal-Mart employees but rather work for a third-party contractor. The store employees are not unionized -- there are no unionized Wal-Mart employees in North America -- but the law may protect their concerted efforts anyway.
Strikers at a Los Angeles Walmart Supercenter. Photo by Aurelio Jose Barrera, Courtesy OUR Walmart
For the past few years, Wal-Mart staff who have sought to push the transnational company for better pay and other benefits have been supported by Organization United for Respect at Walmart -- OUR Walmart, which is backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Evan Yeats, a spokesperson for OUR Walmart, says he expects the size of the rally to swell throughout the day as more employees rotate on for their shifts. “This is a one-day event, but it’s not the end,” he told Minyanville.
Rosales is among the many employees who decided to strike despite the risk of seeing her schedule -- and therefore her paycheck -- trimmed. She said she’s worried about what will happen on Saturday when she shows up for her next shift. “I can’t afford to have even an hour being cut. I have to look after my son and pay bills. I can’t afford missing an hour or a day. To them it might not mean anything, but to me, it means a lot.
“I’m very scared, but it’s a chance I’m willing to take to better my life,” she explains.
Wal-Mart has 1.6 million employees across the US. Labor activists are hoping this action and other recent disruptions -- including a 100-person rally at a store in Dallas, and warehouse strikes in California and Illinois -- will fan the flames of discontent and start a nationwide movement. At the Chicago strike, some 600 supporters of Warehouse Workers for Justice joined striking employees
in solidarity. Police in riot gear were dispatched to the rally, and 17 people were arrested for a non-violent protest that blocked access to a Wal-Mart distribution hub.
In response to the threat of this protest, Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogelman has used media interviews to draw a link between the campaign and the union behind OUR Walmart, saying
that these events are the union’s way of attracting new members and increasing its revenue “to help fund political agendas they have.” Wal-Mart, a major Dow
(INDEXDJX:DJI) component, has annual sales of about $444,000 billion. The stock price has been up nearly 24% this year.
University of California labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein told Salon.com
that he believes a large-scale attempt to unionize at a Wal-Mart store would prompt the company to close the store entirely and open a new location with new employees while the organized labor dispute was litigated.
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