Editor’s Note: The Making Change at Walmart campaign is calling for nation-wide actions at Walmart on Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving – the most significant shopping day of the holiday season. Raging Chicken Press will be on location at several regional Walmarts on Black Friday to bring you the story from workers and supporters. You can follow the latest updates from the Making Change at Walmart campaign on their blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter. You can follow the Twitter hashtag #WalmartStrikers in our right-hand column for up-to-date info on actions.
What started with a warehouse walkout in Southern California on September 12th and Ellwood, Illinois three days later, has erupted into a nation-wide movement to improve wages and working conditions for Walmart and its warehouse distributors. Walmart is a non-union entity and is the nation’s largest private employer, employing 2.1 million associates worldwide with 1.4 million in the United States according to Walmart’s corporate fact sheet.
Throughout the past few weeks, demonstrations have taken place in twelve states and in major cities around the country including Los Angeles, The Bay Area, Sacramento, Orlando, Miami, Chicago,Washington DC area, Seattle and Dallas. These actions have been described as the first strike in Walmart’s fifty year history according to the strike organizers and the actions have grown support in many smaller cities and towns across the continental United States.
October 10th 2012 was the National Day of Action against unfair labor practices with demonstrations taking place such as Walmart associates walk-outs, and local union advocates at many Walmart properties handing out literature to support the worker’s rights to organize, receive fair wages, health benefits and forty hour work weeks. In solidarity with my union brothers and sisters, I took a ride to my local Walmart in Mays Landing, New Jersey to see first hand the impact of their collective efforts.
Upon my arrival, I was pleased to see many conversations taking place between union members in bright orange shirts with customers who were ready to shop. I was greeted in front of the mega-store by Daniel Konczyk, a UFCW (United Food & Commercial Workers) Local 152 union member, with a smile and a leaflet. He was more than happy to answer some questions I had about the significance of the day.
“We picked this Walmart and several others as targets in the area, to bring attention to a national awareness against Walmart. We’re not here to represent the Union, we are here to help the workers of Walmart. There has been a lot of talk politically this year with the presidential election about creating better jobs, so what we are here to do today is to educate the employees and encourage them to come out and let them know they have support to make changes within their workplace.”
This day in Bentonville, Arkansas, Walmart associates from across the country gathered to bring a message to Mike Duke, the CEO, to respect their rights and to create better wages, better benefits and more hours. “The Walmart associates in this country are under attack, as are most of the working people in this county. Walmart is the largest employer in the world, that’s why it is being targeted; this is not about a union/non-union issue” Konczyk said as he waved to the mayor of Mays Landing, who declined an interview, but expressed his support for the union’s initiative.
“Because they don’t have the collective bargaining agreement, there has been retaliation against Walmart employees who have spoken out against the unfair practices such as their hours being cut and their wages effected. Because this company is the largest employer in the world, they should be doing their fair share to increase wages, benefits and hours and to provide good jobs to help the workers to be able to provide for their families and for those who are on public assistance, to be able to stand on their own,” added Konczyk.
I stood with Local 152; about ten of them along with union members from the Acme supermarket who walked across the plaza to join them in their efforts, for about an hour. The store manager, who refused to give his name or an interview and purposely had his Walmant badge turned backwards, made several attempts to ask the leafletters to leave the property by means of police. Konczyk replied to the managers threats with a simple shrug of his shoulder and one solitary word, “No.” The police eventually did arrive and it was agreed upon that the Local 152 members would disband and move onto the next Walmart a few towns over to do more educating. I also made several attempts to talk to a few Walmart employees who were taking breaks outside, but all the associates I tried to make contact with didn’t want to talk out of what can only be assumed, fear of retaliation.
Stand Up, Live Better
Andrea Egizi is an anti-war activist involved in the organization of Occupy Atlantic City