The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Walmart Workers Strike To End Illegal Retaliation

With Growing Support, Workers Begin Nationwide “Ride For Respect” to Annual Shareholder Meeting


In protest of Walmart's illegal efforts to silence the growing calls for a change of course at the country's largest company, Walmart associates walked off the job in the Bay Area, Massachusetts, and Miami today with their co-workers in towns and cities across the country pledging to do the same. With community supporters echoing their calls nationally, the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) - a national organization of Walmart associates speaking out for a stronger company and economy - has been calling on the nation's largest private employer to create better jobs. With more than $16 billion in annual profits and executives making 1,000 times more than the average Walmart employee, a growing number of associates and supporters nationwide are calling for the company to end retaliation against employees and for the company to publicly commit to providing full-time work with a minimum salary of $25,000 a year so workers don't have to rely on tax-payer funded programs to support their families.

Despite Walmart workers' struggle to support their families, plummeting customer service ratings and weak store sales due to understaffing, and preventable tragedies in the supply chain, Walmart has attempted to silence these voices through illegal retaliation, meritless lawsuits, and even firing workers. Last week, American Rights at Work/Jobs with Justice released a white paperdetailing Walmart's extensive and systematic efforts to silence associates who speak out for better jobs - including aggressive litigation tactics and more than 150 documented incidents in stores across the country. Most recently, OUR Walmart has filed nearly 30 federal labor charges against the retailer, including against the illegal firings of two longtime associates,Vanessa Ferriera and Carlton Smith - a 2012 employee of the month.

"Walmart needs to address our concerns about hours and staffing, rather than trying to silence us with lawsuits and threats. We're on strike and taking our concerns directly to Walmart executives and shareholders because we cannot continue to let Walmart try to intimidate and silence committed associates like Carlton and Vanessa," said Dominic Ware, who has worked at Walmart in Oakland, CA, for two years. Ware has been speaking out about retaliation and intimidation since he joined OUR Walmart last year.

Meanwhile, support for these calls for change has grown since the historic Black Friday strikes and protests at 1,000 Walmart stores last fall. In less than two years, OUR Walmart has grown from a group of 100 Walmart workers to an army of thousands of associates in 600 hundred stores across 46 states. In the last year alone, OUR Walmart chapters have grown by 25 percent nationwide.

"Walmart is one company and it's only the largest employer because of us - the associates and customers. Walmart can only do what we allow them to do and we need to stand up and let them know that what they are doing is not okay with us and we are taking a stand," said Barbara Gertz, a Denver, CO, Walmart worker.

With community leaders rallying in support of workers at their stores and online, the group is beginning what they're calling the nationwide "Ride for Respect" to take their concerns to executives and shareholders at the company's annual meeting in Bentonville. In the spirit of the civil rights movement, the Ride for Respect is a weeklong, nationwide caravan during which workers and supporters will be voicing the direct impact that Walmart is having on their lives and our economy - on the road and online. Over the next five days, the Ride for Respect will stop in nearly 30 cities, including Seattle, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Miami, Orlando, DC, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Denver, before arriving in Bentonville on Saturday.

Even though Walmart makes more than $16 billion in profits each year, the retailer is creating jobs that keep its associates without enough hours, without adequate healthcare, and struggling to get by on poverty wages. As a result, many employees can't even support their families without relying on government assistance, while the Walton family, which controls the company, has the wealth of 42 percent of American families combined. Last year, CEO Mike Duke made more than 1,000 times the salary of the average Walmart worker - one of the biggest disparities in the corporate world.

"The American economy is on the wrong track when the country's largest company and largest employer is creating jobs that force its workers to rely on food stamps and other public assistance," said Sarita Gupta, Executive Director of American Rights at Work/Jobs with Justice. "We are proud to stand with the brave leaders of OUR Walmart who are fighting for more than their individual livelihoods but to strengthen the economy for all of us. We need Walmart to use its $16 billion in profits to create good jobs for America."

In a sign that Walmart is hearing these concerns, the company made a public announcement on scheduling in April on the same day that hundreds of workers and supporters confronted store managersat locations nationwide. Still, even as the company spends millions of dollars on an ad campaign about jobs at the company and OUR Walmart members try to ensure newly proposed policies are implemented quickly and effectively, a new survey shows Walmart employees are largely unhappy with their employer. Many longtime employees are not getting the hours they need, while Walmart's reactions to dangerous working conditions at warehouses and supplier factories in Bangladesh and across the globe have been met with empty promises that continue to keep workers at risk.

"Instead of listening to workers and their supporters, Walmart has continued to retaliate against them or propose public solutions that do little to address problems at the company worldwide," said Erin Johansson, American Rights at Work/Jobs with Justice Research Director. "The result is ongoing problems in stores and along the supply chain, from tragedies in Bangladesh to empty shelves and long lines at Walmart stores, that are hurting Walmart's reputation and sales. If Walmart executives and shareholders are truly concerned about the company's future, then it's time for a change of course."

Follow the conversation and see photos on Twitter at #Walmartstrikers.

OUR Walmart works to ensure that every Associate, regardless of his or her title, age, race, or sex, is respected at Walmart. We join together to offer strength and support in addressing the challenges that arise in our stores and our company everyday.