Workers hold a sit-in in front of a Walmart office in Washington, DC, on August 22, 2013. (Credit: Making Change at Walmart)
Nine fired workers and a current employee were arrested around 2:30 pm Thursday after locking arms and sitting in front of the entrance to a Washington, DC, Walmart office. The planned act of civil disobedience concluded a noon rally at which workers announced a Labor Day deadline for Walmart to raise wages and reinstate workers they allege were fired for their activism. Twenty workers who joined a June strike by the labor group OUR Walmart have since been terminated; another fifty-some have been otherwise disciplined by Walmart.
“Hopefully it opens Walmart’s eyes and lets them know that this is just the beginning,” OUR Walmart activist Barbara Collins told The Nation prior to her arrest. If Walmart doesn’t meet the Labor Day deadline, she said yesterday, “then we’re going to give them a lot more actions, a lot stronger actions, a lot bolder ones. And it’ll be across the country.”
Collins was fired by Walmart in June, after protesting fellow strikers’ firings by participating in civil disobedience at the headquarters of Yahoo! CEO and Walmart Board Member Marissa Mayer. As The Nation first reported, this wave of alleged retaliation—the most serious to face OUR Walmart since its founding two years ago—began two weeks after workers concluded a weeklong work stoppage and caravan to the company’s Arkansas shareholder meeting. OUR Walmart is closely tied to the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
Organizers say hundreds of supporters joined this afternoon’s rally to demand Walmart cease retaliation and offer full-time jobs that pay a minimum of $25,000 a year. Chants included “Whose Walmart? OUR Walmart!” and “If we don’t get it, shut it down!” In live video posted online by the campaign, people in suits could be seen stepping over the human chain of seated ex-workers to enter the Walmart office. According to the campaign, arrests took place following three warnings issued over a bullhorn by police; participants in the civil disobedience were individually escorted to a nearby area where they were issued citations for a misdemeanor of blocking a passage, and then released.
The DC protest comes as the city’s mayor mulls a veto of a retail living wage bill fiercely opposed by the retail giant. Some marched to the rally from the offices of the federal National Labor Relations Board, the agency charged with investigating the workers’ claims of widespread illegal discipline against activists. OUR Walmart has urged the NLRB to seek a federal injunction to more quickly address the alleged retaliation; the NLRB did not respond to a Wednesday request for comment on the case.