Walmart warehouse operators and workers have gone on strike at various locations around America, picketing the most notorious and largest anti-union employer in the country over poor working conditions and persistent retaliation for bringing up areas of needed improvement.
The strikes started at distribution centers and warehouse sites, in protest of unsafe working conditions and low pay. A solidarity protest this week at Elwood, Illinois featured mass arrests of sympathizers with the striking workers.
Today, for the first time in Walmart’s fifty-year history, workers at multiple stores are out on strike. Minutes ago, dozens of workers at Southern California stores launched a one-day work stoppage in protest of alleged retaliation against their attempts to organize. In a few hours, they’ll join supporters for a mass rally outside a Pico Rivera, CA store. This is the latest – and most dramatic – of the recent escalations in the decades-long struggle between organized labor and the largest private employer in the world.
“I’m excited, I’m nervous, I’m scared…” Pico Rivera Walmart employee Evelin Cruz told Salon yesterday about her decision to join today’s strike. “But I think the time has come, so they take notice that these associates are tired of all the issues in the stores, all the management retaliating against you.” Rivera, a department manager, said her store is chronically understaffed: “They expect the work to be done, without having the people to do the job.”
OUR Walmart, a coalition of Walmart workers but not a recognized union, put together the walkout. OUR Walmart has backing from the United Food and Commercial Workers union. This technically isn’t an organizing campaign, as OUR Walmart has never sought official union recognition. But their members have been subject to harassment and intimidation, to which the coalition has filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB. Because it’s not technically a union walking off the job, Walmart could be allowed to simply replace the striking workers, even on a one-day action. Even if they’re allowed to continue working there, the OUR Walmart members could be subject to more retaliation.
The demands of OUR Walmart include increasing take-home pay so that workers can get off public programs in order to survive, allowing workers to receive sufficient hours, and ending the efforts to silence workers who speak out.
In the past, Walmart has responded harshly to unionization efforts. When one set of food workers voted to join a union at a Walmart store in North America, the company simply shut down the store and left the area.
Walmart has seen labor actions at its supply chain in recent weeks too, particularly around the guest worker abuse at a seafood supplier in Louisiana. Labor organizers also brought tens of thousands to the streets of Los Angeles to protest the proposed opening of a new store in Chinatown. These actions are clearly linked and are feeding off one another. But Walmart’s vicious anti-unionization efforts give them the upper hand.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Help Firedoglake Send Supplies to the Walmart Warehouse Strikers.]