"Game Changer" at Walmart
Walmart has seen their fair share of “days of action” from the labor movement. But the recent call to “Stand Up, Live Better,” culminating in walk-outs throughout the country this week, is being called “a game-changer.”
The momentum has been building for months. Workers, community members, and workers’ rights organizations like Jobs with Justice have been leafleting, organizing delegations, protesting, and inspiring a groundswell of activity across the country of historic proportions.
In June, guestworkers at C.J.’s Seafood in Louisiana went on strike over complaints of forced labor, wage and hour violations, and discrimination at the crawfish processing company, which supplies 85 percent of its products to Walmart and Sam’s Club. The workers immediately took their grievances to Walmart, calling on the company to use its clout as a major buyer and live up to its own supplier ethics standards by meeting with workers and taking steps to eliminate forced labor among its seafood suppliers.
Walmart responded with an attempted cover-up, while the Workers' Rights Consortium, an independent investigative agency, released findings of “systematic violations of labor law and grossly inhumane treatment” of H-2B guestworkers. After mounting public pressure, Walmart eventually admitted to the abuses, and ultimately suspended its contract with the supplier, while C.J.’s was fined nearly $250,000 for violations of labor law.
Last month, workers at several Walmart warehouses in Southern California went out on strike in protest of retaliation against workers who had spoken out about unsafe conditions. Similarly, warehouse workers in Chicago-suburb Elwood also went on strike when workers were retaliated against for speaking out against labor abuses. After 21 days on strike, workers at Walmart's Elwood warehouse won their principal demand for an end to illegal retaliation against workers protesting poor conditions. They returned to work with their full pay for all workdays while they were out on strike. Southern California warehouse workers also returned to work with full back-pay and improvements to work conditions.
On October 4, more than 60 Walmart associates in nine different stores in southern California walked off the job for the day.
The walk-out – historic in its own right as the first strike by Walmart associates in the company’s 50-year history – coincided with a quieter but equally significant first: the gathering of a new global alliance of Walmart workers convened by UNI Global Union, a federation which represents 20 million service sector workers around the world. The Walmart Workers’ Alliance brings together unions and worker organizations representing Walmart workers in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Canada, and the United States. At their first meeting in Los Angeles, alliance members were able to talk directly and take action together in support of striking associates.
And then this week, store associates in D.C.- and Dallas-area stores also went strike, followed by store associates in Seattle, the Bay Area, Miami, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Chicago, Missouri, Orlando, Kentucky, and Minnesota.
On October 10, Wall Street analysts gathered in Bentonville for their annual meeting with Walmart top executives. The financial analysts were greeted by over 100 Walmart associates offering a direct challenge to the company’s narrative about its success.
While associates are bravely walking off the job and taking their message directly to the press as well as Walmart executives and analysts in Bentonville, hundreds of Jobs with Justice activists will continue joining other labor and community allies across the country for actions at their local Walmart stores. The campaign to Change Walmart, Change America is gaining traction – but we can’t do it without you.
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