Sunnyvale, California—Five activists were arrested at Yahoo! headquarters Monday afternoon in a protest over the firing of eleven Walmart employees who this month went on strike. The planned civil disobedience action followed an hour-long demonstration in the Yahoo! lobby; about thirty workers and supporters gathered to demand a meeting with Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, who joined Walmart’s board last year.
As The Nation first reported, the union-backed group OUR Walmart is alleging a new wave of retaliation against Walmart worker-activists, with terminations or other discipline targeting at least twenty-six of the hundred-some employees who traveled to Arkansas to protest the retail giant’s June 7 shareholder meeting. Congressmen Keith Ellison (DFL-MN) and Alan Grayson both condemned the firings in Saturday comments to The Nation; Ellison, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called Walmart’s actions “completely unjust and illegal.”
A Yahoo! spokesperson declined a request for comment regarding the protest and the alleged retaliation. Asked about the firings and disciplinary “coachings” this morning, Walmart spokesperson Kory Lundberg e-mailed that “our decision had everything to do with what was a violation of attendance policy and nothing to do with a specific protest.”
A few workers arrived in the Yahoo! lobby just after noon today, and told the receptionist they were there to meet Mayer. After being told they couldn’t see her without an appointment, an organizer announced that they planned to stay until Mayer became available. One OUR Walmart member told the receptionist that the firings were an emergency; another offered to meet Mayer on her lunch break. Then a larger group arrived and lined up on either side of the lobby. Standing under a purple pillar of Yahoo logos, workers held signs, locked arms and told stories about their own firings or their co-workers’. Some had their children with them; one woman declared the scene “cute” as she walked between the rows of protesters. A handful of Yahoo! employees watched from a balcony above. Then Yahoo! management declared the lobby shut down, and a staffer told the crowd that he would call the police if they didn’t leave.
“I was nervous at first when I walked in here, but I’m really calm now,” Placerville, California, Walmart employee Barbara Collins told The Nation before being arrested. Collins said she expects to be retaliated against by Walmart when she returns to work, but that “it’s amazing what happens when you’re over that fear.” Looking at her assembled co-workers from other cities, she added, “Walmart created that fear, and these amazing people that we have in our family now helped me get over it.” Collins took part in the civil disobedience along with two employees fired by Walmart, and two members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union who’ve taken leaves of absence from their jobs at Safeway to work on the OUR Walmart campaign. “You really find your backbone,” said Collins. “And it’s OK to stand for what’s right.”