Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Thursday November 21st, 2013, 4:25pm

Walmart Workers To Hold 1,500 National Black Friday Protests

Walmart workers and their supporters plan to hold 1,500 protests nationwide against the mega retailer on Black Friday, including actions in Illinois, members of OUR Walmart announced on a conference call with reporters Thursday.

Organizers with OUR Walmart, a group that formed two years ago and is connected to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, are anticipating an even bigger turnout than last year's Black Friday protests, which were attended by some 30,000 people at 1,000 Walmart stores in 46 states.

“Black Friday 2013 will mark a turning point in American history,” said Dorian Warren, an expert on labor politics and an associate professor at Columbia University. “Fifteen hundred protests against Walmart is unprecedented. Working families are fighting back like never before, and have the support of America behind them."

Walmart announced last week that it would start its Black Friday shopping frenzy at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, which is two hours earlier than last year.

Some of the Chicago stores where protests will occur include the Walmart Neighborhood Markets at 2844 N. Broadway St. and 2551 W. Cermak Rd. as well as the Walmart Supercenter at 4650 W. North Ave., among others in Illinois. It appears that most of the protests will start at 8 a.m. on Friday, November 29. OUR Walmart has started a website to help organize this year's Black Friday actions.

During next week's protests, Walmart employees and their allies will continue the push for an end to retaliation against workers who strike or protest as well as improved working conditions and an annual wage of at least $25,000 a year for full-time employees. Walmart has about 1.3 million employees nationally, but 825,000 of them reportedly make less than $25,000 a year, forcing many workers to rely on various forms of public assistance in order to make ends meet.

Just one 300-person Walmart Supercenter store in Wisconsin, for example, likely costs taxpayers more than $900,000 per year in public assistance programs the workers use to supplement their low wages, according to a May congressional report prepared for the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

More recently, one Ohio Walmart store started a food drive to assist workers who can't pay for Thanksgiving dinner.

"It doesn't surprise me one bit that Walmart associates are coming together to try and make things a little better," said OUR Walmart member Barbara Gertz, a five-year Walmart employee from Colorado. "Even though we don't have much, we hate to see how much we're all struggling. The problems is this: why do we, workers at the largest employer, have to band together to cover Thanksgiving dinner? We work at a company that makes $17 billion in annual profits."

Last week, Walmart workers at three Chicago locations took to the picket lines to call for improved working conditions and higher wages as part of a national series of strikes that also included cities like Los Angeles and Seattle.

Pastor Walter Turner with the New Spiritual Light Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago's South Side is at least one local clergy member who has stood in solidarity with striking Walmart workers and plans to support their upcoming Black Friday actions.

"It is not right for someone to work these many hours and still make $15,000, $11,000 [a year]," he said. "[Local faith leaders] made a vow and a commitment and a covenant to the Walmart workers that they're not going to have to stand by themselves, because this is immoral."

OUR Walmart's Black Friday announcement comes on the heels of a decision this week from the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) Office of the General Counsel to prosecute Walmart for alleged worker violations, including unlawfully threatening, disciplining and terminating employees who took part in legally-protected strikes and protests.

The federal labor board's decision is in response to charges filed last year against Walmart managers who allegedly threatened and discouraged workers from going on legally-protected strikes during the 2012 Black Friday protests. Additionally, NLRB says there is no merit to the illegal firings and disciplinary actions of more than 100 workers who protested at the company's June shareholder meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas.

It's not yet clear what action NLRB will take against the company, but it could require Walmart to reinstate the fired workers, according to OUR Walmart organizers.

Meanwhile, a group of Walmart associates who say they were retaliated against are traveling to the company's Arkansas-based home office this Friday to urge Walmart CEO Bill Simon to reinstate them immediately.

“I’m traveling to Bentonville with other workers who were wrongfully fired because Walmart needs to hear from us directly," said former Texas Walmart worker Jeanna Slate who was allegedly fired for striking. "We want our jobs back, and we want you to put the anti-retaliation policy you talk about into practice." 

Here in Illinois, Charmaine Givens-Thomas, an eight-year Evergreen Park Walmart worker, started an online petition earlier this month demanding President Barack Obama meet with the employees who have been calling for better working conditions and a full-time salary of at least $25,000, which organizers say would be enough for associates to cover their basic needs.

Demos, a public policy organization, released a new report this week that shows "A Higher Wage Is Possible" at Walmart stores without raising prices for consumers.

"We find that if Walmart redirected the $7.6 billion it spends annually on repurchases of its own company stock, these funds could be used to give Walmart’s low-paid workers a raise of $5.83 an hour, more than enough to ensure that all Walmart workers are paid a wage equivalent to at least $25,000 a year for full-time work," the report reads.

The recent report builds on a prior Demos study, which found that if retailers with more than 1,000 employees provided their full-time, year-round workers with base earnings of at least $25,000 annually, some 1.5 million retail workers and their families would emerge from living in or near poverty. Boosting base earnings would also increase retail sales, add to economic growth and create more than 100,000 new jobs, according to Demos' 2012 "Retail's Hidden Potential" report.

"When profitable companies like Walmart pay so little that their employees can't afford a decent standard of living, businesses everywhere, including Walmart itself, see lower sales," explained Demos' senior policy analyst Amy Traub. "We will never get the economic growth that creates jobs at that rate."

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