On Thursday, August 22nd, nine former Walmart workers were arrested in front of Walmart’s federal lobbying offices in Washington, D.C., demanding to go back to work. These workers had been questionably terminated after they went on strike against unfair labor practices at the company in June leading up to Walmart’s shareholder meeting in Bentonville. The OUR Walmart leaders gave company executives a deadline of Labor Day to reinstate the 80+ workers, including themselves, who were fired on legally questionable grounds. The workers were joined by one current employee.
Workers had gone on strike and traveled to Bentonville to demand the company change course—altering such bad practices as uneven scheduling, unsafe working environments, and wages that force some workers to live out of their cars.
Walmart CEO Mike Duke pushed back on the accusations, repeating the myth that Walmart store workers make an average of $12.78 an hour. Mr. Duke failed to mention that this does not apply to Walmart’s large number of part-time workers. But the store associates participating in the demonstration on Thursday are clear that the majority of workers, mainly part-time, only average at about $8.81 per hour.
This collision comes at a time when D.C. residents are trying to pass legislation to guarantee large retailers such as Walmart, with over $1 billion in profits, pay a living wage of $12.50 an hour. Despite this wage being below Mr. Dukes’ supposed average wage at the company, Walmart is fighting hard against the bill – already approved in an 8-5 vote by the city council – threatening to halt all new stores in the city if the mayor doesn’t veto it.
Walmart is going against the collective demands of both workers and communities, and this is a moment for a collective fight back. While Walmart has until Labor Day to reinstate fired workers, District of Columbia Mayor Gray may have less time to prove which side he’s on. The bill, called the Large Retailer Accountability Act, is set to land on his desk as early as this week, at which point Mayor Gray will have ten days to sign or veto the bill.
For more information on the worker actions, see Josh Eidelson’s article “Fired Walmart Workers Arrested at Rally Announcing Labor Day Deadline” in the Nation.