Labor Action: Pushing for Strike and Consumer Boycott Against WalMart

A nationwide movement to improve wages and work conditions for WalMart and its warehouse distributors has erupted from what started with a warehouse walkout in Southern California on September 12, 2012, and Ellwood, Illinois three days later because of poor working conditions, discrimination, and undefined or reduced work hours. WalMart has been notorious for being exceptionally cruel to its employees over the years and is involved in lawsuits ranging from refusal to pay overtime, forcing temporary workers to arrive early and work through lunch breaks, and even sexual misconduct and discrimination. In 2008 alone, WalMart paid out $640 million in settlements in dozens of federal and state class-action lawsuits.

As a non-union entity that employs 2.1 million so-called associates worldwide, WalMart is a prime example of global capitalism. It is the United State’s largest private employer, with a domestic labor force of 1.4 million. About 70 percent of the products WalMart sells are made in China and are the direct result of exploited labor in that country. This modern slave labor is the reason why Walmart can advertise its prices as being the lowest anywhere and also why the company reported a net income of $15.4 billion in 2011. The heirs of Sam Walton, the founder of the WalMart empire, are by far the world’s richest family, with a combined net worth of $93 billion. They currently hold numbers six, seven, eight, and nine on the Forbes 400 richest people in the world.

Throughout October and November 2012, demonstrations took place in twelve states and in major cities around the country including Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Sacramento, Orlando, Miami, Chicago, Washington DC, Seattle and Dallas. These actions have been described as the first strike in Walmart’s 50-year history according to the strike organizers, and have grown support in many smaller cities and towns across the continental US. OUR WalMart, an advocacy group consisting of current and former employees, has planned a nationwide Black Friday strike and walk-out that could potentially cripple the mega-giant superstore.

October 10, 2012 was the National Day of Action against unfair labor practices, with demonstrations taking place, such as walk-outs by WalMart associates, and distribution of literature, at many WalMart stores by local union advocates, supporting workers’ right to organize, receive fair wages, health benefits and 40-hour work weeks. In solidarity with my union brothers and sisters, I took a ride to my local WalMart in Mays Landing, New Jersey, to see first hand the impact of their collective efforts. I was pleased to find many conversations taking place between union members in bright orange shirts with customers who were ready to shop. I was greeted in front of the mega-store by Daniel Konczyk, a United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 152 union member, with a smile and a leaflet. He was more than happy to answer some of my questions about the day’s significance.

“We picked this WalMart and several others as targets in the area, to bring attention to a national awareness against WalMart. We’re not here to represent the Union; we are here to help the workers of WalMart. There has been a lot of talk politically this year, with the presidential election, about creating better jobs, so what we are here to do today is to educate the employees and encourage them to come out and let them know they have support to make changes within their workplace.”

This day in Bentonville, Arkansas, WalMart associates from across the country gathered to bring a message to CEO Mike Duke and to the Walton family members who still control over 48 percent of the company, to respect workers’ rights and to provide better wages, better benefits and more hours. “The WalMart associates in this country are under attack, as are most of the working people in this county. WalMart is the largest employer in the world, that’s why it is being targeted; this is not about a union-nonunion issue” Konczyk said as he waived to the mayor of Mays Landing, who declined an interview but expressed his support for the union’s initiative.

“Because they don’t have the collective bargaining agreement, there has been retaliation against WalMart employees who have spoken out against the unfair practices such as their hours being cut and their wages affected. Because this company is the largest employer in the world, they should be doing their fair share to increase wages, benefits and hours and to provide good jobs to help the workers to be able to provide for their families and for those who are on public assistance, to be able to stand on their own,” added Konczyk.

I stood with Local 152; about 10 of them along with union members from the Acme supermarket who walked across the plaza to join them in their efforts for about an hour. The store manager, who refused to give his name or an interview and purposefully had his WalMart badge turned backwards, made several attempts to ask the leaflet distributors to leave the property by means of police. Konczyk replied to the manager’s threats with a simple shrug of his shoulder and one solitary word: “No.” The police eventually did arrive and it was agreed that the Local 152 members would disband and move to the next WalMart a few towns over to do more education. I also tried several times to talk to a few WalMart employees who were taking breaks outside, but none of the associates I tried to make contact wanted to talk because of what can only be assumed to be a fear of retaliation.

There are a few ways we as citizens can support WalMart workers in their struggle for fair wages and better work conditions. First, we as consumers should boycott all WalMart stores: especially on Black Friday and the entire holiday season. Hitting WalMart in the wallet is a great way to get its attention and demand change. Second, we should let the managers and other higher-ups at WalMart know that we are boycotting them. Third, we should encourage our neighbors, families and friends to do the same. Fourth, and most important, we should stand with the workers and let them know they have the support of the entire working class. We need to show them solidarity, not only through understanding and empathy, but also — and even more so — through our actions.

Editor’s Note: Andrea Egizi is a journalist who focuses mainly on issues of ethics, equality and human rights. She is currently working on a novel. She is a seasoned front line activist and regular contributor to Raging Chicken Press. Photographs one, two and seven by One America.

 

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16 Responses to Labor Action: Pushing for Strike and Consumer Boycott Against WalMart

  1. -3 Vote -1 Vote +1Joost van Steenis
    November 12, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Why do people buy at Walmart? Because Walmart is cheap. So I doubt a boycott will be successful. And the damage of a substantial boycott is already incalculated by the owners of Walmart – see the 640 million they paid for law suits in 2008.

    The chance on success of a boycott is minimal and the criminal leaders of Walmart remain on their high positions. Indeed criminal activities as not paying for overtime, sexual misconduct, discrimination and the sacking of anyone who dares to oppose or even criticise what happens at Walmart. The action does not contain any retaliation against those who pay too low wages and provide bad labour conditions.

    It is praiseworthy when workers become active to improve their situation but when there are no successes people will become disappointed and will not take part in future actions. And when those who cause the bad labour conditions are not directly pressured, nothing will really change.

    It is again an old union action that also in the past had limited successes. Time to engage in a new kind of actions that directly hit the culprits, the owners and the high-ups of Walmart. Let them feel that they are damaging our kind of people. Not by actions in front of Walmart but at least by actions in front of the houses of these well-to-do managers and owners that reasonably can be called criminals. Then they will realise that hurting the rank-and file will have direct consequences for their own comfortable life.

    • Vote -1 Vote +1Jon Q. Public
      November 21, 2012 at 7:11 pm

      People shop at walmart because it is the only game in town. Gone are the small mom and pop style businesses. My town in Indiana used to have two shoe stores a little grocery a big grocery an office supply two jewlers a jc penney a one off clotheing store a five and dime. We have a jewler and an office supply, everything else, is gone. People always say that Walmart is cheaper, in fact it is not always cheaper. Take for example the Sharpee pen. Last time I looked walmart was selling this for $1.49 the office supply I mentioned earlier sells it for $0.99. You think you are getting a good deal just because, but you are more then likely not getting a good deal…

  2. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Alex
    November 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Walmart sucks and I will never shop there.

  3. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Matthew Embrey
    November 12, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Walmart isn’t a bad place full of evil people. But there are those within the company at a corporate level and store managers who have no idea what it means to work minimum wage with a baby on the way. But most of the people are hog-tied. A manager wants to give the hours, but if he does he gets reprimanded/fired and then he is out of a job and then his kids need fed. It’s a trickle down from the few in the place to make those bad calls.

    Also, do not fault individual employees for not talking to the media. That has been policy at Walmart and many other stores and businesses nationwide. To think they do not talk to you out of fear characterizes us as scared little people unable to make a stand. Because many have, such as myself, without reprimand. If you clock in, you work. Not talk to the press. That’s just being a good worker, and being a good worker gives weight when you protest, not be a lazy slug and then demand an extra dollar an hour.

    Much fault lies with higher ups in Walmart. Not with the idea of Walmart or the employees of Walmart. Be a good reporter, not a Union reporter.

    • +2 Vote -1 Vote +1aegizi
      November 13, 2012 at 7:53 pm

      Hello Matthew. I do not fault the individual Walmart workers for not wanting to talk with me at all. I approached them and asked if I could talk with them and they wouldn’t even have to give me their names. Granted, the timing was probably not the best due to the fact that the management was so sour on the leaf-letting earlier that day and was more than likely keeping eyes on the employees who exited the building. And if you read the article, the Union was not there to “unionize” but more to inform the workers on their rights. I was a silent observer and let the Union do it’s thing.

  4. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1donibelle
    November 12, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    Great information. Thanks for this, Andrea.

    • +2 Vote -1 Vote +1aegizi
      November 13, 2012 at 7:43 pm

      My pleasure.

  5. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1cray rail
    November 13, 2012 at 6:50 am

    This boycott is only part of a larger strategy to raise awareness of the union-backed walk outs. What the workers do at the job sites is more important than people who boycott, it’s true, however the Walmart workers *need* the support of the rest of the 99% who are in the same boat.

    Boycotts by themselves aren’t necessarily super effective but this is bringing a lot of attention to the conditions these workers are dealing with and how unacceptable it is. Spreading the word about the Friday, Nov. 23 boycott is an act of solidarity we can all take part in.

    • +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Jillian
      November 15, 2012 at 12:01 pm

      Black Friday is less than two weeks away. Stand with Walmart Strikers and find an event near you: http://bit.ly/SIy5kT

  6. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1redawn
    November 13, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    i have never gone to black friday…but weather permitting i will be there to support protesters.

    profit should also trickle down. the phrase was trickle not tinkle…you aren’t supposed to piss on the american worker.

  7. -2 Vote -1 Vote +1InTheField
    November 13, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    There’s a lot of allegation with little fact… Retaliation is against policy. If you feel you are being retaliated against use the open door policy… As far as wages every employee is told what their pay will be when interviewed… If it was unacceptable, don’t accept it. As far as hours being cut, the real workers get the hours, and availability is everything. Sounds like a great deal of whiners wanting a pay check, not hard working people willing to work hard.

  8. Vote -1 Vote +1Againstwalmart
    November 17, 2012 at 6:48 am

    I would comment on what was said by inthefield. There is plenty of evidence to support Walmart abuse of it’s employees. They have paid out millions of dollars to settle claims for the way they treat their workers. It’s easy for you to say if you don’t like the wage don’t take it. But many people have no other options but to take the poverty wages paid by Walmart. I support the strike and hope it bring change to that greedy company.

  9. Vote -1 Vote +1gsuburban
    November 19, 2012 at 7:27 am

    It’s rather easy to boycott WalMart, spend your money at Target. Break a routine, change your thoughts and enjoy a better shopping experience, Target.

  10. Vote -1 Vote +1tiger47
    November 22, 2012 at 7:41 am

    Some of Walmart’s prices are NOT cheap. Some of their food products are not fresh. The employees with whom I have interacted, know basically how to do their jobs, nothing more. Some appear to barely know what they are supposed to be doing.
    The fault with Walmart, lies with the upper management, not the store employees, many of whom appear to not have received adequate training.
    I am only partial to Walmart, when I think I might get a bargain. Sometimes, there is no bargain, since they continue to increase their prices.

  11. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Ivan
    November 22, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    I worked in retail and I can say almost 80 % of this company’s are not good at all sears target walmart are al the same there don’t care about people there care about profit is these the American way well I don’t think so when we understand the constitution we the people then corporation will not exist in the way there are today.
    The only way to change is do stop to be a consumer but to be a person.
    A person that support the worker rights
    A person with a common sense
    I support these worker that strike why these is the real vote of the people enough is enough
    I will never buy anything an black Friday the cheating day for corporation why the rest of the year there treat us like grab.

  12. Vote -1 Vote +1Yourmommashouse
    March 14, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Walmart is great for people watching and cheap fishing tackle. Thats about it.