When Walmart holds its annual meeting in Bentonville, Ark., on Friday, Janet Sparks will deliver two important messages. First, as a small shareholder, she will introduce a resolution to reform executive compensation at the world’s largest retailer. More significantly, however, as a worker at the company’s store in the small town of Baker, La., Sparks will also be telling Walmart a thing or two through her actions: Sparks, a national leader of OUR Walmart—a two-year old organization of the company’s retail “associates”—is one of more than 100 Walmart workers from across the country who went on strike May 28, and who have traveled to Bentonville to make their voices heard.
The Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) is modeling their workers rights campaign after the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Inspired by the Freedom Riders of the civil rights movement, the workers in this first prolonged Walmart work stoppage traveled by bus from all corners of the country to Bentonville, where Walmart’s headquarters are located. Along the path of their “Ride for Respect,” they held protest rallies at Walmart stores against the company’s behavior towards its employees, and they picked up more strikers.
The striking workers hope to persuade corporate executives to take two simple steps: First, they want the executives to sit down and talk with them about making Walmart a better employer. Though Sparks acknowledges the group may not get everything it wants, OUR Walmart’s goals in such talks would include providing more full-time work that pays at least $25,000 a year. Second, they want Walmart to stop punishing and firing workers who speak out regarding problems with work at Walmart.
Walmart, one of the most profitable companies in the world, is notorious for its poor labor standards and low pay. The activists hope by demonstrating they can get a meeting with senior executives at Walmart to discuss better labor practices. These reforms include better practices in Bangladesh the site of a recent factory collapse that killed numerous workers.