Black Friday is taking on a new meaning for Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) as workers stage walkouts around the country, agitating for better wages, benefits, and work schedules.
Employee group OUR Walmart is behind the strike, a drastic step after more than a year of fighting Wal-Mart for respect and cooperation on labor relations, with no success.
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While it’s not yet clear how many employees around the country are participating in the strike, their actions are drawing widespread media attention as they coincide with the busiest shopping day of the year.
Known for Black Friday deals that draw large crowds, the company opened doors at Walmart stores at 8 p.m. on Thursday, drawing ire from employees required to come into work earlier than ever on Thanksgiving. But the holiday didn’t keep away strikers, who were out at 7:30 p.m. in Miami, where 30 workers from three stores went on strike, joining 100-plus supporters for one of several nighttime rallies around the country…
Workers struck and rallied outside a store in Dallas, but were dispersed by police. Workers walked off the job in San Leandro, California, and Clovis, New Mexico. Stores in Ocean City, Maryland; Orlando, Florida; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, each have a single worker out on strike.
Strikes are expected to grow this morning as people recover from their tryptophan-induced comas and head out to stores, either to shop or to join protesters. Marquee events are being held in Miami, Chicago, Milwaukee, Dallas, Seattle, San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., and non-employees are more than welcome. In fact, OUR Walmart is encouraging communities to get involved on their website, ForRespect.org.
If strikes are large and widespread enough, they could upset sales, as Walmart stores try to operate with reduced staff while picketers prevent some potential customers from entering stores. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, where workers walked off the job last night, OUR Walmart says managers kicked customers out of the store on the mistaken assumption that they were there to protest. But shutting down stores is not the goal — rather, workers are hoping to inform the public of Wal-Mart’s mistreatment…
The strikes are bringing a lot of media attention to the plight of the average worker. Many employees, supporters, and members of the press are live-Tweeting events around the country, sharing thoughts, photos, and stories. Congressman-Elect Alan Grayson joined Walmart associate Lisa Lopez as she walked out on strike in St. Cloud, Florida — information that OUR Walmart shared in a Tweet.
Expectations are high, given Wal-Mart’s size — the current wave of work stoppages is already among the country’s most consequential twenty-first century strikes. But workers are calling this a turning point rather than a climax. They’ve only just begun to stand up for themselves, and plan to continue striking until Wal-Mart starts giving in to their demands.