Don’t call it Black Friday anymore. The kickoff to the national holiday shopping frenzy has now officially merged with Thanksgiving day itself, with Walmart leading the Thanksgiving evening creep by opening its doors at 10pm on Thursday this week. And the Thursday night opening has given workers at over 1,000 Walmart stores planning a Black Friday strike even more reason to walk out from work.
The planned action has been in the works for some time, long before Walmart announced its Thursday evening opening. The strike comes after months of such walkouts that started in Los Angeles area stores and spread to Maryland, then Texas, for a total of nine states this fall. Workers say they are upset over much more than just having to leave their families on Thanksgiving evening.
“It’s a real hardship for me to go on strike. For those of us who live paycheck to paycheck every hour counts. All we’re doing is speaking out for change,” said Sara Gilbert, a manager at a Seattle Walmart who is protesting what she says are the retail giant’s retaliatory measures to silence workers who’ve raised their voices about working conditions. Since workers with OUR Walmart, a United Food and Commercial Workers union-backed organization, have spoken up about bad pay and inconsistent and unfair hours, they say they’ve been excluded and punished. She joined other Walmart workers in Seattle, Dallas and Oakland who went on strike last week.
Last week Walmart took its first formal steps to cracking down on this next phase of worker organizing by filing an official labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, charging that the walkouts threaten to disrupt its business and scare away shoppers. The NLRB is working to address the issue quickly, but in the meantime OUR Walmart is keeping up the pressure.
Walmart employs 1.4 million people, and not only is staunchly anti-union, they’re also ruthlessly cutthroat in how they treat their workers. Walmart workers, OUR Walmart says, often have to choose between paying their rent and paying their health care bills, and have to borrow money from coworkers just to get through the month. But the real injustice is in how Walmart is sidelining those who’ve spoken up now.
“How is this happening? I work for one of the most successful companies in the world and we get subsidized housing and food stamps and my children are on state health care,” Gilbert said. Indeed, last year Walmart reported a net income of $15.4 billion, with a 24.7 percent gross profit margin. While Gilbert, a full-time store manager, is struggling to support her family on her $14,000 a year income, Walmart’s CEO Michael Duke took home $18.7 million in 2011.
“We smile for the customers but we’re going through a lot of turmoil and frustration,” said Colby Harris, a worker in a Lancaster, Texas Walmart store. “A lot of us who choose to speak up have been silenced.”
For more, check out the video above, as Columbia University professor Dorian Warren, who also sits on the board of Colorlines.com’s publisher the Applied Research Center, talks about Walmart’s treatment of its workers and shares more about the upcoming action.
You can find more details on the campaign by visiting Forrespect.org.