Walmart Workers Strike Nationwide in Advance of Shareholders' Meeting
Yesterday, Wednesday, June 4th, Walmart employees and supporters including the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OURWalmart) and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) went on strike outside of Walmart stores across the country. Their actions were unfair labor practice strikes responding to Walmart’s alleged retaliation against protesting and striking workers over the last two years. The workers’ additional grievances included the quality of wages, benefits, and treatment (which Scott Hochberg covered in detail for On Labor last November). A group calling itself “Walmart Moms,” which is comprised of female associates struggling to afford basic necessities on their retail salaries, showed up in force. OURWalmart planned these nationwide strikes to coincide with Walmart’s annual shareholders’ meeting, which will take place tomorrow, Friday, June 6th in Fayetteville, AK.
The strikes spanned the nation, with actions in Tampa, Chicago, Minneapolis, Baton Rouge, Miami, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Dayton and Cincinnati. The actions were not limited to Walmart stores. On Tuesday morning, picketers gathered near Walmart Board Chairman Robert Walton’s home in Paradise Valley, Arizona to protest the company’s polices. In New York City, which has no Walmart stores, over half of the City Council signed on to a letter demanding that Walmart cease making charitable contributions to New York organizations, accusing them of using the funds as a ploy to get a foothold in the NYC market. The retail giant also pushed back. In Texas, Walmart successfully applied for a temporary restraining order to prevent the UFCW, OURWalmart, North Texas Jobs with Justice, and their affiliates from gathering outside their stores.
Throughout the country, one subgroup of strikers, Walmart Moms, sought to highlight the difficulties of women working at the big-box chain. Their strikes coincided with the release of a report by Demos, a left-leaning think tank, detailing poverty wages in the retail industry. Entitled Retail’s Choice: How Raising Wages and Improving Schedules for Women in the Retail Industry Would Benefit America, the report found that 1.3 million women working in retail live within 150 percent of the poverty line and that the pay gap between men and women in retail costs women $40.8 billion annually. Walmart Moms have relied on the report’s finding to ask for a minimum wage floor of at least $25,000 a year, as well as demanding that Walmart create full-time jobs so mothers do not need to rely on food stamps and Medicaid, and that the retailer cease to retaliate against organizing workers. Among others, they highlighted the plight of Tiffany Beroid, a worker who says she was fired for participating in Black Friday strikes last year.
Unfair Labor Practice Charges
The employees are striking in response to unfair labor practices allegedly committed by Walmart. In November 2013, the NLRB announced that it planned to take action against the retailer for alleged unfair labor practices by the company against employees who protested or planned to protest the company on Black Friday (covered by Nikolas Bowie here). On January 15, 2014, the NLRB issued a consolidated complaint against Walmart alleging that they engaged in threats of reprisal against employees for strikes and protests, that they unlawfully disciplined and terminated employees in reprisal for engaging in strikes and protests, and that they terminated others in anticipation of strikes and protests in fourteen states. The day before, Occupy Wall Street released Walmart training materials that explained how managers could observe and report potential union organizing activities. This week’s strikes also coincided with the first of the hearings related to the NLRB’s claims.
Annual Shareholders’ Meeting
The actions also come in advance of a potentially contentious shareholders’ meeting. In an open letter, OURWalmart called on shareholders to vote out director Robert Walton and to develop an independent chairman policy. The letter highlights Walmart’s 2012 bribery scandal and alleged violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, as grounds for the policy shift. The New York Times published an article yesterday detailing Walmart’s attempts to remove management connected to the scandal and reform internal processes to prevent future violations. This Time’s piece follows the Wall Street Journal’s revelation that Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., which advises large shareholders on how to vote on the corporate ballots, has advised Walmart shareholders to install a more independent board in the wake of the controversy.
In commentary, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has compared student involvement in the Walmart organizing with the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer, calling it Freedom Summer II. William Spriggs, Chief Economist with AFL-CIO made the case in Forbes that raising retail wages is good for the American economy. Meanwhile, various Walmart spokespersons have sought to downplay Walmart’s employees’ involvement with the strikes. They use similar language to the Center for Union Facts and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which have alleged that organizations like OURWalmart are union fronts that do not enjoy popular support among employees.
Trending hashtags include #WalmartStrikers, #WalmartMoms, and #WalmartEconomy.
In addition, there will be a live webcast of Walmart’s Shareholders’ Meeting this Friday, June 6th starting at 8:00am EST.