Walmart’s employees protested wages and hours Friday across a reported 1,600 stores in 49 states. It marked the third-consecutive Black Friday protest of its kind, and is already being hailed as the largest.
In addition to protests against the retail giant, Walmart employees in six states filed formal strike notices. For the 2014 protests, the emphasis was on a demand for $15-an-hour minimum wage.
The Organization for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) organized the demonstrations. Founded in 2011, its campaign focuses on large-scale rallies that aim to publicly shame Walmart for aspects of its pay-scale and business model.
Walmart has been quick to downplay these protests as isolated incidents involving just a handful of the retail giant’s 1.4 million U.S. employees.
“Perception is not reality in this case,” Brooke Buchanan, a Walmart spokeswoman, told the Huffington Post. “Year after year we see the labor union and paid organizers promising they’ll be out in force. And every year, we see a handful of people at a handful of stores.”
The other big issue for protesters is the lack of fixed and guaranteed hours available to many Walmart employees.
In October, Walmart Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said that fewer than 6,000 Walmart employees make the federally mandated $7.25 hourly minimum wage, saying the company’s average hourly pay is $12.92. His calculations, however, left out part-time workers.
In January, Walmart announced it was also cutting health benefits for employees who worked less than 30 hours per week (an estimated 30,000 employees). In 2011, the same policy was dispensed to employees working under 24 hours a week.
Last year, the National Labor Relations Board accused Walmart of illegally threatening employees that took part in the protests. The federal labor board issued a formal complaint against Walmart in January.
But Friday’s protests were well-documented and loud nonetheless. Friday afternoon, they became a Facebook trending topic.
— DCist (@DCist) November 28, 2014
— Sarah Reynolds (@Sarah__Reynolds) November 28, 2014
— John Nichols (@NicholsUprising) November 28, 2014
— Adbusters (@Adbusters) November 28, 2014
— The Other 98% (@other98) November 28, 2014
— AFT (@AFTunion) November 28, 2014
— jamalbryant (@jamalhbryant) November 28, 2014
— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) November 28, 2014
— VICE News (@vicenews) November 28, 2014
— Splinter (@splinter_news) November 28, 2014
Buchanan said Friday that no Walmart employees had left their shift to protest. “Unions are trying to crush the holiday spirit,” she added.
Photo via SocialJusticeSeeker812/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)/Remix by Allyson Holley