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Protesters Picket at Wal-Mart Stores Across the Country — and Here in Richmond

| November 23, 2012
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By Aarti Shahani and Lisa Aliferis

About one hundred people gathered outside Walmart's Richmond store today to protest Walmart wages and benefits. (Aarti Shahani: KQED)

About one hundred people gathered outside Walmart's Richmond store today to protest Walmart wages and benefits. (Aarti Shahani: KQED)

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.

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  • Smartie

    If you don’t like where you work…. get another job. This is ridiculous to say the health insurance deductible is too high.. REALLY????? WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD. If you don’t like where you work.. quit trying to change the company– change yourself. Get more training- go back to school.. make the change in yourself. Make the sacrifice to go to college.. (don’t post.. that it’s not easy to go to school) .. I know that.. but make the sacrifice for your future. ((If you don’t want your job.. I am sure there is someone who would like it.

  • miss c

    Are not Wal-mart employees slated to receive Obamacare? It seems to me that the unions are desperate to trap and lock in dues paying members before the new healthcare law takes effect, because after it does, there will be no need for unions. Wal-mart employees would be foolish to vote to unionize because once they start paying the dues they will be stuck paying them forever. I am in a union and due to the financial situation our city is in, we are forced to take unpaid leave, have made numerous concessions on retirement and have not received raises in years. So we pay the union for nothing.

  • neil

    unions dont just get you better medical it protects your job. i work at an airline where our union was decertified, we not only lost our medical, but now can be fired for any reason, a crew of 4 was fired out of saltlake for putting up a Xmas card in the galley and trying to be cheerful for working last xmas and not being home with family. a passenger complained about it. because the passenger dosent believe in the holiday and the entire crew was fired. mainly because they were senior and are topped out in pay and its a lot cheaper to get new hires to do the same job. if you are in a union and are complaining about it i dare you to quit and get a non union job. you would find it quite a reality check.

  • neil

    i would rather pay my union dues and be treated with respect at work then have to kiss managers butts all day and pretent everything is wonderful cause if you complain about anything you will get fired.