OUR Walmart members speak with Karen Casey, Walmart's Head of Labor Relations, June 16, 2011. (Flickr/OUR Walmart)
Following a five-day organizing training and strategy summit in Birmingham, members of the labor group OUR Walmart will announce a plan to send civil rights movement–style caravans of workers from around country to converge at the retail giant’s June 7 annual shareholder meeting.
Walmart workers active in OUR Walmart, a non-union organization backed by the United Food & Commercial Workers union, plan to make the announcement on a video live-stream from Birmingham at 4 pm Central Time today. Several days before the shareholder gathering, caravans will leave from several cities around the country, stopping along the way to pick up workers and supporters, and to meet with community activists. OUR Walmart’s plans for the next month also include confrontations between Walmart employees and members of the company’s board of directors.
Los Angeles Walmart worker Tsehai Almaz told The Nation that after visiting the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and meeting with local clergy, she and other OUR Walmart leaders were inspired to follow the example of the 1961 freedom riders. “I feel like we’re facing many of the same issues,” said Almaz, “even though it’s not necessarily about race—this time it’s about respect. And being able to feed our families, and having good working conditions.” Almaz, a support manager who’s worked for the company for about a year, said that she was driven to join the campaign after she and several co-workers were needlessly injured in a rash of workplace accidents in her store.
OUR Walmart activists were also present at the company’s 2012 shareholder meeting. At that gathering, Walmart workers brought a petition urging the resignation of the company’s CEO and board chair, and read a shareholder resolution from the floor calling for restrictions on executive pay. Since then, Walmart retail workers followed guest workers at a Walmart shrimp supplier, and sub-contracted Walmart warehouse workers, in walking off the job—the first coordinated Walmart retail strikes within the United States.
As The Nation has reported, the current campaign has outpaced past efforts by taking advantage of vulnerabilities in Walmart’s supply chain, developing worker leadership through local shop floor showdowns, and mounting carefully crafted work stoppages designed to engage more workers, while dodging the obstacles facing modern US strikes. Still, OUR Walmart activists remain a small minority: their most significant action so far—a Black Friday strike by some 400 workers—mobilized less than one of every 1,000 direct US Walmart employees.
Today’s announcement will follow a battery of workplace delegations by Walmart employees on April 24. Organizers say workers in dozens of stores went in groups to confront local managers over erratic and insufficient working hours; the campaign said it does not yet have a count of how many workers participated in all. In a January address to the National Retail Federation, Walmart US CEO Bill Simon announced plans to improve scheduling, a long-time grievance of OUR Walmart. Worker activists claimed that announcement as a sign of momentum for their campaign, but said prior to the delegations that they’re yet to see signs of any new policy being put into action.