June 25, 2013

Erica Smiley

Walmart Initiates Systemic Firings, Silencing Of Strikers That Speak Out

After hundreds of workers returned to their stores after striking against unfair labor practices, and after thousands of community activists around the country organized actions at local stores, Walmart has predictably responded by retaliating.  Instead of engaging workers in a conversation about treatment, plummeting customer service ratings, weak store sales due to understaffing, and preventable tragedies in the supply chain, the largest retailer in the world has instead chosen to fire several leaders and discipline dozens of others.

Unfortunately, this is not a shock.  A recent white paper released by American Rights at Work details a litany of the company’s retaliatory responses to workers who try to speak up.  And like many corporations, they are likely hoping that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will be kept from functioning as Republicans hold up the nomination process in Congress.  But workers are not waiting on Congress to act.

On Monday, several of the recently terminated workers held a dramatic protest at Yahoo! Inc. headquarters in Sunnyvale, California, leading to five arrests—including Angela Williams, an associate from Central Florida for whom Jobs with Justice mobilized significant support last year. The actions taken by the workers were to bring attention to Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO and a board member of Walmart, who has remained conspicuously silent while the retail giant bullies its employees. As a Board member at Walmart, Mayer has a responsibility to ensure that Walmart does not violate the freedom of speech of workers who speak out for better jobs.  The dramatic sit-in and march at Yahoo’s headquarters took place a day before Yahoo’s annual shareholders meeting and followed recent protests at Mayer’s Four Seasons penthouse in San Francisco.

“As a working mom, I thought Marissa Mayer would understand why I’m standing up to create a better life for my family,” said Walmart associate Marie Roberty, who was recently fired for speaking out. “I was wrong. We’ve been reaching out to Ms. Mayer for months now, but so far she’s remained silent. I joined with my coworkers in publicly calling for Walmart to improve in the hopes of keeping food on the table, a roof over our heads, and having a regular schedule that allows me to be there for my kids. Instead, Walmart fired me – and I’m here today to hold Marissa Mayer accountable for this, and I’ll keep speaking out until Walmart ends its illegal retaliation against me and my coworkers.”

So far, the only response from Mayer and other board members is to arrest workers.

…and legally attack community leaders.

In addition to firing workers last week, Walmart also filed a trespassing lawsuit against North Texas Jobs with Justice in an attempt to keep concerned community members and faith leaders from exercising their right to speak out about what’s best for their community.  The action mirrors complaints the company has made against Jobs with Justice in Central Florida, Massachusetts and nationally.

“I’m standing up for Walmart workers,” said Gene Lantz of North Texas Jobs with Justice, who is named in the suit. “[Walmart is] just trying to intimidate people, and people aren’t getting intimidated.”

Senior management continues to refuse to listen to calls for change by workers, communities, and even shareholders. They continue to pursue business practices that hurt workers throughout the supply chain, customers, and the economy. Fundamentally, Walmart has lost track of American values.

Jobs with Justice will continue to stand with OUR Walmart to demand the company change course.  Together, we are demanding that Walmart’s Board of Directors put a stop to the company’s illegal firings and attempts to silence workers’ voices, and publically commit to respect their freedom to speak out for better wages, safer work environments and respect on the job.

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