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Walmart’s Black Thursday Hits Paducah

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Berry Craig, recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360. Craig sends us this.

James Vetato planned to spend Black Friday wearing out shoe leather on a picket line at the Southside Walmart in Paducah, Ky.

"Now I'll be there Thanksgiving night, too," Vetato said. "Walmart has announced it will be open at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving night, which will prevent a lot of the associates from spending the holiday with their families.”

Vetato, 47, is an organizer with OUR Walmart—Organization United for Respect at Walmart—a national association of current and former Walmart employees, several thousand strong, who will be walking picket lines and striking at dozens of Walmart stores across the country on Turkey Day and Black Friday.

OUR Walmart wants to shine a national spotlight on Walmart's abuse of its workers, Vetato said. The organization chose the day after Thanksgiving because it is the busiest shopping day of the year.

We are fighting to win respect and improve working conditions for all associates.

Vetato, who worked at the store he will be picketing, hopes OUR Walmart will become a union.

Before I worked at Walmart I wasn’t that big on unions. I didn’t think a union was a bad thing. I just didn’t know anything about unions. Now I think every workplace should be unionized.

According to Vetato, OUR Walmart has about 15 members in historic Paducah, where the Tennessee and Ohio rivers merge. “We’re relatively new so we’re not that big. But our numbers are growing.”

Vetato said the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union is providing financial backing and other valuable help to OUR Walmart, some of whose members, including Vetato, have demonstrated at Walmart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.

AFL-CIO-affiliated unions support Vetato’s group, too. “We stand in solidarity with the Walmart workers and will be glad to help them in any way we can,” said United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9447 President Jeff Wiggins, who is also president of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council. 

Vetato said fear is keeping more Walmart workers from joining OUR Walmart.

There aren’t that many jobs around here. But Walmart has pushed people so hard, they have decided enough is enough and they are not going to take it anymore.

Vetato said management drove him to quit the Southside store after two years.

It all started after I was speaking with an associate in the back room who was complaining about the way things were. I said things would be better if everybody stood together and took our problems to management.

A manager overheard the conversation, according to Vetato. “He said he was sick of my kind coming into the store and undermining what he was doing. He doubled my workload and cut my hours.”

But what really made me say ‘enough is enough’ was when he made some inappropriate comments about my 15-year-old daughter. I complained to the store manager and he told me he didn’t have time to micromanage the store.

James Vetato and son.

Vetato has worked at odd jobs since he left Walmart in October 2011. "When I apply some place and say I worked at Walmart and they call Walmart, I suspect Walmart won't give me a good recommendation," he said.

Meanwhile, the OUR Walmart actions began in October in Southern California when, for the first time ever, employees went on a one-day strike. Said Vetato:

Across the country, Walmart employees have filed many, many unfair labor practice charges against the company because of the way the company is treating them. Walmart refuses to address our concerns, even those that would help the company. If you speak out, you face retaliation.

Walmart, which is fiercely anti-union, has put out training videos aimed at discrediting OUR Walmart, according to Vetato. “They say all we are trying to do is take your money and get your personal information and cause trouble.”

Vetato said Walmart’s current business model includes canceling profit sharing for associates, increasing their health care costs by 36% and reducing their hours.

They are really trying to push full-time and older employees out the door and replace them with younger and part-time people.

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