By Aarti Shahani and Lisa Aliferis
Protesters gathered outside several Bay Area Walmart stores this "Black Friday," a day considered to be the busiest shopping day of the year.
Members of the group Organization United for Respect at Walmart -- or "OUR Walmart" -- say the company should pay higher wages, offer better health care coverage and improve job safety conditions.
About a hundred protesters outside the Walmart store in Richmond have been chanting both in English and Spanish. One worker, a current Walmart employee, said she's not being paid enough, that $10.75 an hour is just not enough to get by. She also said her health care has too high a deductible. The woman said she's not afraid of losing her job, but that she's speaking out for the workers inside who are afraid to protest.
Walmart is criticizing the protests as illegal union picketing; the store is seeking an injunction against the United Food and Commercial Workers international union as an unfair labor practice. From the Wall Street Journal:
The charge was filed with the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that oversees union elections and referees disputes between private-sector employers and employees.
NLRB spokeswoman Nancy Cleeland said Monday that by law, this type of case must take priority over all other charges at the agency. That is because Wal-Mart alleged there was "recognitional picketing," which is picketing with the intent to get Wal-Mart to recognize a union.
The agency's internal guidelines state its goal should be to decide whether such cases have merit within 72 hours, Ms. Cleeland said. "However, there are unique legal issues here. It's factually complex. We're putting extra resources into the investigation and we're going to make a decision as quickly as we can," she said. ...
OUR Walmart ... was started in 2010 with financial support and advice from the UFCW. ... OUR Walmart, which said it is no longer a subsidiary of the UFCW and is an unincorporated nonprofit association, said the protests aren't about forming a union. Instead, the group is protesting alleged unfair labor practices.
Joe Hansen, president of UFCW happened to be in the Bay Area from his Washington, D.C. home for the Thanksgiving holiday. He visited the Richmond store today and denied any formal relationship between the union and OUR Walmart. "We're allies," he said, pointing out that no one was passing out cards to get workers to sign up for a union. "These workers are showing extreme courage. They're not part of the union. They are walking out and standing up for their rights and for better wages and benefits, and we're here to support them."
Inside the Richmond store, self-described regular Walmart shoppers said the store looked empty. "I think it's because of what's going on outside," said Elizabeth Espinoza who crossed the picket line with her two young daughters. "It kind of makes you think twice whether you want to stay here or if you want to leave."
Some protesters chased down shoppers and tried to prevent them from going into the store to shop. At least one shopper refused to go in. "Nope, not til this is over," said Glenda King. "And this is my favorite store."
Walmart's regional general manager Chester Gray declined an interview and corporate headquarters did not respond to multiple inquiries.
This post was updated at 1:20pm to include quotes from Elizabeth Espinoza and Joe Hansen.
MORE: The Nation is live blogging Walmart protests in Maryland.