Walmart Workers Plan for Fourth Year of Black Friday Demonstrations

November 25th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

As shoppers, retailers, and employees gear up for the biggest shopping day of the year—Black Friday—workers are preparing for what will be the fourth year of Black Friday protests in a row at dozens of stores across the U.S.

Though Walmart announced that it would raise its wages from $9 to $10 an hour in April, workers remain steadfast in their demands for a $15 per hour minimum wage, and more full-time work for those who want it. The demonstrations will include those organized by the group Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), and other worker's rights groups. The United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) also planned a week-long food drive for Walmart workers.

Related: When Even Walmart is Increasing its Minimum Wage, You Know Everybody Deserves a Raise

Why workers are striking

Though OUR Walmart and UFCW previously staged demonstrations together, Politico reports, administrative changes led to a divergence—though both are still involved in actions. A Walmart concession to offer holiday discount deals before Thanksgiving lead the UFCW to organize the food drive, Politico notes. "Our campaign to change Walmart can't just be about one day," UFCW organizer David Young said on Tuesday, noting the change necessitated the organization's "Black Friday Week of Action," which includes food drives for current employees and a television campaign. Food drives will replace picketing for many demonstrators this year, who will call attention to the fact that Walmart's low wages and low full-time hours bar many employees from actually putting food on the table—something some Walmart stores have acknowledged in roundabout ways. In 2013, for example, an Oklahoma store held a food drive for its own employees

Related: Here's How Much You'll Pay Extra If Walmart Raises Their Wages

Walmart appears to turn a blind eye to its protesting workers, claiming to not know that OUR Walmart and the UFCW are now separated, Politico notes.

"We understand from public sources that a group calling itself Organization United for Respect at Walmart... or other labor organizations or community groups intend to stage one or more demonstrations on Walmart private property in the coming months with assistance and/or participation by your organization," wrote the store's Counsel Steven D. Wheeless in a letter to UFCW recently. 

In a perhaps more direct hit at the company, actual Walmart workers organized by OUR Walmart will actively demonstrate, with some workers on hunger strikes, at multiple stores on Black Friday for higher wages and longer hours, the group said. 

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The protests mark the fourth year Walmart workers will strike at stores nationwide. It's the latest in workers' continued effort to call on the owners of Walmart—the Walton family, whose six richest members accounted for more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined in 2012—for more accountability. 

"We know it takes quality [employees] to give our customers a great shopping experience," said Walmart spokesperson Brian Nick in a statement, "and we're proud of the wages and benefits package we offer."

Though Walmart may brush off worker demonstrations, the company has taken precautions in the past when union-backed protests have threatened its business model. As a new Bloomberg Businessweek cover story highlights, in 2012 the store hired the defense and intelligence contractor Lockheed Martin, and contacted the FBI, to monitor labor activity and keep tabs on employees involved with groups like OUR Walmart. The findings were included in court documents brought about by a National Labor Relations Board hearing into OUR Walmart's allegations that the company retaliated against protesting employees, which it calls associates. 

Walmart Strike Chicago

"We are firmly committed to the safety and security of our 2.2 million associates as well as the 260 million customers we serve each week," Walmart said in a statement to Bloomberg in relation to the documents. "It’s important to remember that Walmart is the largest company in the world with 11,500 stores in 28 countries. Unfortunately, there are occasions when outside groups attempt to deliberately disrupt our business and on behalf of our customers and associates we take action accordingly.”

Related: Why Walmart Is the Biggest Welfare Recipient Of All