US Walmart workers were joined by Walmart workers in nine countries on Friday to call for an end to Walmart’s attempts to silence workers for speaking out for changes at the world’s largest employer. As Walmart workers and community supporters marched in front of a Walmart store in Miami, workers in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Zambia and India held their own rallies, marches, and other actions at Walmart and Walmart subsidiary stores. During the protests, workers cited the negative impacts that the silencing is having on their families, the economy and the company’s bottom-line.
At the protests across the globe, workers held a moment of silence to honor the victims of the factory fire in Bangladesh that tragically claimed the lives of 112 workers. Recent reports show that Walmart “played a leading role in blocking an effort” to improve electrical and fire safety systems in factories in the country.
“Walmart must stop its attempts to silence those who speak out. We are standing up for what is right for our families and the global economy,” said Elaine Rozie, an OUR Walmart member from the Hialeah store in Miami Gardens, Fl. Rozie is a seven-year associate who despite works full-time at Walmart still has to depend on public assistance to make ends meet. “As the largest retailer in the world, Walmart should be setting a standard for good, safe jobs. The benefits of having steady, well-trained workers in stores and along the supply chain will help Walmart improve customer service ratings and its reputation, which is good business.”
“We are inspired by OUR Walmart members who are standing up for a better future for all of our families,” said Louisa Plaatjies, a worker from South Africa. In October, workers from seven countries – where workers all have union representation – launched the UNI Walmart Global Union Alliance to fight for fairness, decent working conditions, and the fundamental human right of freedom of association. ”We are will continue to stand up with our brothers and sisters in the United States until Walmart starts listening to the workers that keep the store running.”
The global protests held today build on the ongoing calls for change at Walmart. In November, community members and Walmart workers held more than 1,000 demonstrations, including strikes in 100 cities, during the Black Friday shopping rush in protest of the company’s illegal attempts to silence workers for speaking out about the company’s manipulation of hours and benefits, efforts to try to keep people from working full-time and its discrimination against women and people of color. The Black Friday strike wave came a little more than a month after OUR Walmart leaders held the first-ever strikes against the mega-retailer. In just one year, OUR Walmart has grown from a group of 100 Walmart workers to an army of thousands of Associates across 43 states.
“The Walmart workers may come from different cultures and continents but they are united in their opposition to Walmart’s cynical and systematic squeezing of its employees to maximize profit, be it the US dollar, the South African rand, the Indian rupee, the Argentine peso or any other currency,” said the International UNI Global Union General Secretary, Philip Jennings. “Walmart has gone too far. US Walmart workers have had enough and they are fighting back as we saw on Black Friday and every day since. The Alliance is standing with them not just in solidarity but in strength and in action.”
Workers like Jesus Vargas, who have been illegally fired, targeted by management or other retaliation for speaking out, are also raising their voices. More than 30 federal charges against Walmart have already been filed, with another 60 allegations against Walmart’s illegal threats currently under investigation.
“Walmart, we will not be silenced,” Vargas said. Vargas, who was unjustly fired for speaking out at his store in California, has filed a federal charge against Walmart. “We are coming together to be heard and to create good jobs that workers in America and across the globe need.”
With so many Americans struggling to make ends meet and Walmart taking in $16 billion in profits and compensating its executives $10 million each, workers and community leaders have been calling on Walmart and Chairman Rob Walton to address the wage gap the company is creating. At the same time frontline Walmart workers are facing financial hardships, the Walton Family – heirs to the Walmart fortune – are the richest family in the country with more wealth than the bottom 42% of American families combined.
Workers’ concerns about wages and staffing have been affirmed by newly uncovered company pay-plans exposed by the Huffington Post, recent poor sales reports and a new study on wage trends in the retail industry. Huffington Post uncovered what reporters call “a rigid pay structure for hourly employees that makes it difficult for most to rise much beyond poverty-level wages.” Meanwhile, last week’s sales reports show that understaffing, which affects workers’ scheduling and take-home pay, is also having an impact on company sales. Last week’s sales report showed that Walmart’s comp store sales are about half what competitors like Target reported in the same quarter, continuing a pattern of underperformance by the world’s largest retailer.
As workers and community supporters call for changes at Walmart, a new report by the national public policy center Demos, shows that better jobs at Walmart and other large retailers would have an impact on our economy. A wage floor equivalent of $25,000 per year for a full-time, year-round employee for retailers with more than 1000 employees would lift 1.5 million retail workers and their families out of poverty or near poverty, add to economic growth, increase retail sales and create more than 100,000 new jobs. The findings in the study prove there is a flaw in the conventional thinking by companies like Walmart that profits, low prices, and decent wages cannot coexist.
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Making Change at Walmart is a campaign challenging Walmart to help rebuild our economy and strengthen working families. Anchored by the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), we are a coalition of Walmart associates, union members, small business owners, religious leaders, community organizations, women’s advocacy groups, multi-ethnic coalitions, elected officials and ordinary citizens who believe that changing Walmart is vital for the future of our country.