By ADAM LEVIN
On June 7, a group of activists traveled by bus to a southern city to protest actions by powerful and wealthy interests. If this situation sounds familiar, that’s because the event, titled “Ride for Respect”, is intended to recall 1960s freedom riders against racial injustice. However, the target of the protesters’ ire is the world’s largest private employer – Walmart.
The protest, in Bentonville, Ark., was one of many recent actions taken by Walmart employees and their allies to protest poor pay, retaliation against dissenting workers, poor working conditions, and a frequently corrupt and discriminatory management staff.
These protests extend beyond Bentonville or even the United States. For example, in March of 2013, Nicaraguan garment workers protesting for unionization and better pay were accosted by a mob hired by a Walmart supplier.
In that same month, on the other side of the globe, workers at a Walmart supplier in Cambodia forced the supplier to pay out $200,000 in unpaid wages and severance after a weeks-long strike.
The efforts to reform Walmart in the United States have been spearheaded by the employee-run group Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart.
OUR Walmart made its public launch in June of 2011 with a national “Speak Week”, with events and actions in Texas, Florida, California, Washington State, Maryland, and Missouri.
Later that month, around 100 members met in Bentonville, the location of Walmart’s Home Office. They penned OUR Walmart’s Declaration of Respect, which envisions “a world where we succeed in our careers, our company succeeds in business, our customers receive great service and value, and Walmart and Associates share all of these goals.”
These goals and criticisms are shared by many Walmart employees.
OUR Walmart recently helped to set up Walmart at 50, an online organization dedicated to assembling stories of disgruntled employees. The idea is to create a counter narrative to Walmart’s one-sided story of a fifty-year-old socially responsible and principled enterprise.
Some of the most frequently voiced complaints on the website involve workers who feel Walmart deceives communities and workers about how much they pay.
Jessica Lail wrote on Walmart at 50’s website that her superiors “break the law by not paying you the overtime you make. Instead of letting your hours go over 40, they would make you take two or three hour lunches, or clock in late…”.
Similarly, Gregory Fletcher writes that when trying to lobby for a store to open in his town, “Walmart told the city council of $13/hour jobs and near 80 percent fulltime positions”.
DISCRIMINATION AND FAVORTISM
Rachel Pruitt attests that her manager made “unprofessional statements against my gender, age, and social class” and complains of discrimination “against women involving promotions, favoritism, and unprofessional comments from management.”
Lucas van de Ven, too, speaks of “blatant favoritism, rampart dishonesty, unlivable wages, and shameless discrimination”.
A CULTURE OF FEAR
The stories reveal a culture of fear created by retaliation against workers who object to poor conditions.
An anonymous worker wrote that “for speaking out…my hours have been cut IN HALF. I am still employed and cannot post my photo. There will be repercussions.”
Read more Walmart employees stories at http://walmartat50.org/.
SUPPORT WALMART WORKERS
Those who wish to support these workers have many options open to them.
• Past or present Walmart employees can join OUR Walmart.
• Non-Walmart workers can join Making Change at Walmart, an advocacy coalition composed of unions, small businesses, community groups and religious leaders focused on improving Walmart as a means of improving the lot of all working people of the United States.
Making Change at Walmart and OUR Walmart are asking for donations to help Walmart workers facing retaliation for dissent and to continue the fight for better conditions for Walmart employees. Their joint PayPal account can be found at https://www.wepay.com/donations/37778