Walmart workers have stepped up their Black Friday protests against the mega retailer with a 15-day fast for a $15 minimum wage and full-time schedules.
Over 1,400 Walmart workers and their allies are participating in the fast, organized by the recently relaunched OUR Walmart campaign. In the run-up to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving shopping frenzy, fasters are consuming a liquids-only diet for one to 15 days to draw attention to what they consider to be low wages and hours provided to Walmart workers.
The fast began last week and will culminate with Black Friday protests on November 27 at Walmart stores nationwide, including in Chicago and other Illinois cities.
"OUR Walmart's message to Walton heirs -- whose wealth has been greater than the bottom 42 percent of all American families combined -- is clear: while Walmart employees can barely put food on the table this Thanksgiving, Walmart continues to thrive as the largest supplier of groceries in the nation, while it lines the pockets of the Walton family with corporate greed," OUR Walmart said in statement. "Anything less than $15 and full-time is not enough for Walmart workers."
Walmart workers have staged Black Friday protests against the company since 2011, when the worker-led OUR Walmart group first formed with the help of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
In September, OUR Walmart relaunched "as a more independent organization" with 20 new partners, including the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Interfaith Worker Justice and Restaurant Opportunities Center United, to name a few.
OUR Walmart relaunched "with a focus on pressuring the corporation to pay their workers $15 an hour and extend full-time employment" and "has no intent to have Walmart recognize or bargain with OUR Walmart as the representative of its employees," according to the group.
CREDO Action, Demos and local Jobs with Justice chapters are among the 22 organizations supporting Walmart workers during the Black Friday fast and protests.
"We are seeing more energy around this Black Friday than any previous one," said Andrea Dehlendorf, OUR Walmart's co-executive director. "There are few more powerful acts of defiance than fasting and the number of people willing to go hungry to call out Walmart's injustices is simply remarkable and unheard of. We feel confident this will be our most impactful Black Friday yet."
This year's Black Friday protests are the first to hit Walmart since the company announced in February that 500,000 of its full- and part-time U.S. workers would be getting a wage hike. The hourly minimum wage for Walmart employees went up to $9 in April and will increase to $10 by February 2016. As part of the announcement, Walmart also said it would be providing some associates with fixed schedules beginning in 2016.
While OUR Walmart members were happy to see Walmart taking action on worker pay and scheduling issues, they said the company's "announcement still falls short of what American workers need to support our families."
A Walmart employee working 34 hours a week -- the company's full-time standard -- would make $15,912 a year at $9 an hour or $17,680 at $10 an hour.
OUR Walmart members are pushing for a $15 minimum wage, which is an annual salary of $31,200 for a full-time worker.
For its part, Walmart defended the wages and benefits it provides to workers.
"We know it takes quality associates to give our customers a great shopping experience and we're proud of the wages and benefits package we offer," said company spokesman Brian Nick. "Our average full-time hourly associate earns more than $13 an hour in addition to the opportunity for quarterly cash bonuses, matching 401k as well as health care benefits. Walmart is investing $2.7 billion over this year and next in wages, education and training for our associates because we know they make the difference."