Walmart workers, with assistance from the OUR Walmart campaign, launched the first prolonged strike in the company's history, capping it with a rally on Friday outside the company's shareholder meeting in Bentonville, Ark. Workers began the strike more than a week ago and went on a freedom ride-inspired trek, called the “Ride for Respect,” to Walmart headquarters in Bentonville. The strike is planned to extend until after the shareholder meeting.
Workers from more than 30 cities joined in the ride, which the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) official Dan Schlademan referred to as “a massive education program meant to educate Walmart workers and communities about the issues of Walmart.” OUR Walmart compiled the stories of many of the Ride for Respect participants, including Esmeralda:
In my store, I have yet to really see someone stand up for themselves. What I do see are employees going into the store manager’s office, then coming out crying. Nobody is able to stick up for themselves. Recently, my manager brought me into her office and told me that she was going to take me from full-time to part-time. She tried to trick and intimidate me into believing that I (not management) was the reason for my low hours the past week and tried to make me sign a document agreeing to be taken down to part-time status. I told her that it was in fact her fault for scheduling me that way and instead we signed an agreement stating that there will be no change to my full-time status. My co-worker applauded me for standing up to management, and without my involvement in OUR Walmart, I doubt I would have been able to stand up to her. I probably would have signed the paper and now be a part-time employee.
The striking workers are continuing with the demands that the OUR Walmart campaign and previous strikes and protests have asked for from the company. Among these are higher wages, more hours, health care, protection against retaliation for raising workers' rights issues and improved safety at international locations in the Walmart supply chain. CREDO is asking supporters of the striking Walmart workers to take action by signing a petition calling upon the company to agree to the improvements requested by the strikers.
On Monday, protesters in Bentonville raised the issue of Walmart's failure to provide for the safety of workers in factories overseas that manufacture the products the retail giant sells. OUR Walmart reports that 1,239 workers have died at unsafe factories in countries like Bangladesh, where Walmart suppliers exploit weak labor and environmental laws in order to keep prices low and profits high.
Walmart filed a restraining order against OUR Walmart, labor unions and other allies of the striking workers, prohibiting outside groups from joining in the protests in Bentonville.
The protests come on the heels of a report from House Democrats that shows that Walmart's low wages effectively require the government to subsidize the company's employees through social insurance programs to help those workers be able to afford subsistence living.