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Walmart workers may strike on Black Friday for employee rights

Last week, workers at multiple Walmart stores in Southern California engaged in a one-day strike. The work-stoppage was the first in Walmart’s 50-year history, and the company maintains an entirely union-free workforce in North America. It wasn’t a traditional strike, because most of the workers can’t afford to stay away from work. Can they afford to stand up for employee rights in this economy?

According to interviews with workers, the work-stoppage was intended to protest working conditions, along with the retaliation they say they face when they complain to management. They also contend that the company illegally retaliates against workers who try to unionize.

This week, workers at 28 Walmart stores in 9 states, including Minnesota, joined the striking workers, and a demonstration was held at the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. The goal of this series of one-day strikes is to build momentum toward what they hope will be a massive walkout on Black Friday — the busiest shopping day of the year.

It’s a risky strategy, even though the management of two stores did respond to the walkouts by agreeing to end the retaliation the workers complained about. Still, Walmart employs approximately 1.4 million retail workers, and the risk might not pay off for others.

A corporate spokesperson for Walmart told reporters, “These strikes are an attempt by the unions to further their own political and financial agendas.”

A reporter from AOL Jobs interviewed several workers at the Bentonville demonstration, hoping to learn what issues they sought to address. According to those workers, the low pay and unaffordable health insurance are certainly crucial issues, but they aren’t the primary one.

For those interviewed, the problem was what they see as management retaliation against those who simply exercise their employee rights by doing things like making workers’ compensation claims, complaining about working conditions or attempting to unionize.

Two of the protesters were loading dock workers at a store in Pico Rivera, California. When workloads increased dramatically, one experienced a severe aggravation of an old knee injury and the other suffered damage to the connecting tissue in his spine. They complained, and in response, the man claims, management reduced their hours and pay — for one of them to $8 per hour and only 10 hours a week.

No one yet knows how pervasive or successful these worker actions may be. If you were faced with an employer who seemed completely unresponsive to employee complaints, what would you do?

Source: AOL Jobs, “Walmart Workers: This Is Why We’re Striking And Making Black Friday Threat,” Claire Gordon, Oct. 11, 2012

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