Can Retail Workers Keep Up the Fight for the Right to Make 13 Bucks an Hour?

Big Box ‘associates’ and labor activists alike hope that Black Friday rolled out more than the traditional holiday discounts.

Walmart workers in Paramount, California took their grievances to the parking lot on Black Friday shopping
Walmart workers in Paramount, California, took their grievances to the parking lot on the biggest shopping day of the year. (Photo: Jennifer Calica)
Matt Fleischer was awarded a Fund for Investigative Journalism grant for his series “Dangerous Jails.”

Headlines about the Black Friday protests staged by Big Box workers across the country this past weekend are taking longer to die down than executives at stores such as Walmart would have hoped for.

Raucous cheers erupted from the parking lot of the Paramount, California, Walmart last Friday. No, deal-obsessed shoppers weren’t applauding Black Friday’s slashed prices. Instead, nearly 1,000 Walmart store employees, warehouse workers, union organizers, Occupy Wall Street protesters and sympathetic citizens gathered to protest low wages and company retribution against employees who attempt to negotiate for better working conditions and compensation.

“Some of us have been trying to get Walmart to address our concerns for years,” said Carlton Smith, a 16-year veteran of Walmart’s Paramount store. “I even flew to [Walmart corporate headquarters in] Bentonville to get them to listen. The reason we came here today is that when we stand up for ourselves, we get a target on our back.”

MORE: Big Box Workers’ Lament: Voices From Thanksgiving Retail Hell

The protest was one of the largest, and most forceful gatherings in the nation against the labor practices of Big Box retailers—Walmart chief among them. At the Paramount protest, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies arrested nine people for committing acts of civil disobedience—attempting to prevent shoppers from entering the store.

Walmart did its best to downplay Black Friday protest actions against its stores.

“These people face reprisals when they complain about working conditions. We’re fighting to give them a voice at the table. And we’re going to keep fighting until they get it.”

“We are aware of a few dozen protests at our stores,” Walmart spokesman Steve Restivo told the LA Times. “The number of associates that have missed their scheduled shift today is more than 60 percent less than Black Friday last year.”

If true, that may be because instead of sitting down with workers to negotiate demands, Wamart threatened legal action against anyone who planned to protest.

The largest retailer in the world filed an unfair-labor-practice complaint against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union—which Walmart says is responsible for the protests.

The motion asks the National Labor Relations Board to issue an injunction preventing workers from picketing or protesting on Black Friday outside Walmart stores. A decision wasn’t rendered in time for Friday; so Walmart is still pursuing the injunction retroactively.

Legal threats and the possibility of being fired did nothing to deter Walmart “associates” from showing face at the Paramount protest. Three Walmart workers from the store spoke before the gathered crowd. Libra Herrera, a worker from Walmart’s supply warehouse—where, he claims, minimum wage is the norm and conditions can rise to 100-plus degrees with not even a fan system to cool the workers—also gave a rousing speech in Spanish.

Sadly, your humble TakePart reporter’s Spanish isn’t what it used to be—but Herrera’s words clearly fired up the crowd.

“We’re here supporting the workers,” Phillip Meza, a member of the worker advocacy group OUR Walmart told TakePart after Herrera’s speech. “These people face reprisals when they complain about working conditions. We’re fighting to give them a voice at the table. And we’re going to keep fighting until they get it.”

Are you with or against the Big Box workers who speak up for living wages and better treatment? Leave your reasons in COMMENTS.

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