In a clear indication of mounting frustration with Walmart and the Walton family’s failure to respect workers’ rights, Walmart workers in California have gone on strike. Today, Los Angeles Walmart workers participated in their boldest action to date: the first-ever sit-down strike at a Walmart store.
Workers entered the store at approximately 11 a.m. and refused to move, holding a sit-in near cash registers and racks at the store for a 2-hour period. Following the sit-down strike, the group headed to another Los Angeles-area store, where they held yet another sit-down strike inside, accompanied by a rally outside.
Workers and their supporters took over the intersection near the Walmart, refusing to leave until they were arrested and removed from the intersection. Approximately 25 were arrested.
Sit-down strikes and protests have a long history as a catalyst for change in the struggle for a better workplace and civil rights.
Workers have carried out sit-down strikes dating as far back as 1906, when 3,000 General Electric workers sat down on the job to protest the unfair firing of their coworkers. In 1937, a handful of fearless Woolworth women started a nationwide movement for better working conditions and living wages when they sat down in their Detroit store and decided not to give up until they won the treatment they deserved. These women inspired and influenced Americans across the country. About twenty years later, 4 college students in Greensboro, North Carolina would sit down at a white-only Woolworth’s lunch counter, starting a wave of sit-ins that eventually helped dismantle segregation in the Jim Crow South.
Woolworth has already been called the Walmart of its day. Now, in 2014, Walmart workers decided that Walmart’s most recent acts of retaliation warranted this historic action and wanted to tell the Walton family who owns Walmart that things must change.
Over the last year, Walmart workers have pressured Walmart to change its pregnancy policy, provide access to more hours and most recently to pledge to phase out its minimum wage jobs. However, when workers’ calls for change started to gain momentum, Walmart struck back. They retaliated against vocal workers standing up for better wages and worker conditions.
Among those fired for standing up was Rosa Valenzuela, who was terminated just a month short of her 20-year anniversary with the company. After giving Walmart nearly two decades of her life, the company created excuses to discipline the sixty-seven year old, even citing an incident where she was said to have clocked out 2 minutes late.
“I worked for Walmart for nearly 20 years and they fired me for speaking up for all of our rights. I was a stone in their shoe, so they got rid of me. I feel betrayed,” Rosa said. “I’m out here today so Walmart knows that we won’t be scared into silence. We’re going to keep standing up for our rights until they start to respect us.”
Unfortunately, Rosa’s story is just one of the many incidents of retaliation against workers who dare to risk the small bit of security they have for a better Walmart.
Today in Los Angeles, California, workers sent a clear message to Walmart: retaliation against workers who stand up in the fight for $15, full time and respect in the workplace will not be tolerated.
“I’m striking today for workers like Evelin, Victoria, Rosa, Maria Elena, Graciela who Walmart retaliated against for standing up for change,” said Paramount Walmart worker Martha Sellers. “Walmart and the Waltons need to know that they can’t silence us all.”
You can support the #WalmartStrikers by visiting BlackFridayProtests.org.
Workers in Southern California Begin First Sit-Down Strike in Company History to Protest Retaliation
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LOS ANGELES – OUR Walmart members, some of whom were part of the first Walmart strike in October 2012, have just sat down near registers and next to racks of a Walmart store in Crenshaw. The group of striking workers, from stores throughout California, has placed tape over their mouths signifying the company’s illegal efforts to silence workers who are calling for better jobs. Even as the mega-retailer brings in $16 billion in annual profits and Walmart’s owners build on their $150 billion in wealth, the majority of Walmart workers are paid less than $25,000 a year.
“Stand Up, Live Better! Sit Down, Live Better!” the group chanted before sitting down.
Workers are holding signs resembling those of the first retail sit-down strike at Woolworth in 1937, when retail workers at the then-largest retailer in the country called for the company to increase pay, provide a 40-hour work week and stop the retaliation against workers who spoke out.
“I’m sitting down on strike today to protest Walmart’s illegal fear tactics and to send a message to management and the Waltons that they can’t continue to silence us and dismiss the growing calls for $15 an hour and full-time work that workers are raising across the country,” said Kiana Howard, a mother and Walmart striker.
“Walmart and the Waltons are making billions of dollars from our work while paying most of us less than $25,000 a year,” Howard continued. “We know that Walmart and the Waltons can afford fair pay, and we know that we have the right to speak out about it without the company threatening the little that we do have.”
To date, workers at more than 2,100 Walmart stores nationwide have signed a petition calling on Walmart and the Waltons to publicly commit to paying $15 an hour and providing consistent, full-time hours. After taking the petition to members of the Walton family, supporters committed to returning to stores on Black Friday if jobs aren’t improved by then.
“Walmart is a giant engine creating vast wealth for one family and heartbreaking poverty for many working families, just like Woolworth’s in the 1937, when 100 young women in Detroit sat down and occupied a Woolworth’s store, and won wage increases and many other demands,” said Dana Frank, an expert on the U.S. labor movement, professor of history at University of California, Santa Cruz and the author of Women Strikers Occupy Chain Store, Win Big: The 1937 Woolworth’s Sit-Down. “The strike was enormously popular, because it struck a chord in the public: Woolworth’s, like Walmart, was paying its workers poverty wages, but raking in spectacular profits that the public knew about. In Crenshaw today, as brave Walmart workers sit down to protest the company’s threats against employees who speak out for better jobs, it’s time for Walmart to finally heed the growing movement calling on it to improve jobs and respect working people.”
“We cannot continue to allow our country’s largest private employer to pay workers so little that they can’t put food on the table for their families and then punish those who speak up about it. Walmart’s actions are immoral, illegal and they are destroying the American values that we all hold dear,” said Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
The sit-down strike comes on the heels of a New York Times story on how persistent understaffing at Walmart stores is contributing to wasted food, un-stocked shelves and lower sales. For the past three years, workers have been raising concerns about understaffing and theimpact on the company’s wellbeing with managers, shareholders and executives. Investors and analysts are also reacting today to the company’s third-quarter financial reports, which indicate that persistent staffing problems are keeping the company from improving customer traffic and growing the business.
Hundreds of community supporters plan to join striking workers later this evening at 5 p.m. outside the Walmart store located at 8500 Washington Blvd in Pico Rivera, where the first protests against Walmart’s illegal retaliation were held in 2012.
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: UFCW and OUR Walmart have the purpose of helping Wal-Mart employees as individuals or groups in their dealings with Wal-Mart over labor rights and standards and their efforts to have Wal-Mart publically commit to adhering to labor rights and standards. UFCW and OUR Walmart have no intent to have Walmart recognize or bargain with UFCW or OUR Walmart as the representative of Walmart employees.