Two updates appear below.
Walmart employees are on strike in Miami, Massachusetts and the California Bay Area this morning, kicking off what organizers promise will be the first “prolonged strikes” in the retail giant’s history. The union-backed labor group OUR Walmart says that at least a hundred workers have pledged to join the strikes, and that some workers walking off the job today will stay out at least through June 7, when Walmart holds its annual shareholder meeting near Bentonville, Arkansas.
Organizers expect retail employees in more cities to join the work stoppage, which follows the country’s first-ever coordinated Walmart store strikes last October, and a high-profile Black Friday walkout November 23. Like Black Friday’s, today’s strike is being framed by the union-backed labor group OUR Walmart as a response to retaliation against worker-activists.
After previous one-day strikes, San Leandro, California, Walmart employee Dominic Ware told The Nation last night, “We’ve seen that Walmart is trying to hold out the best that they can. So I’m planning on going on strike as long as it takes.”
“This represents the first time in Walmart history that workers have made the decision to go on prolonged strikes,” said United Food & Commercial Workers Union official Dan Schlademan, a key strategist in the OUR Walmart campaign. Schlademan called the workers’ willingness to escalate to prolonged strikes “another example of the depth of leadership and commitment that this organization is building.” OUR Walmart has close ties to the UFCW, which has also backed past pressure campaigns against Walmart, and failed efforts to unionize its stores.
As The Nation first reported, OUR Walmart activists are also planning a series of caravans, inspired by the 1961 civil rights movement freedom rides, which will converge in Bentonville this weekend prior to the shareholder gathering. That “Ride for Respect” will bring workers to about thirty cities, including Los Angeles, DC, Chicago and Cincinnati, where they’ll meet supporters and visit Walmart stores before continuing to Arkansas. Schlademan called the caravans “a massive education program meant to educate Walmart workers and communities about the issues of Walmart.”
Asked yesterday about OUR Walmart, its retaliation allegations and its planned caravan to the convention, Walmart spokesperson Brooke Buchanan e-mailed that the shareholder meeting would be “a celebration of our 2.2 million associates who work hard every day so people around the world can live better.” “The Union and its subsidiary ‘Our Walmart’ is comprised of a few number of people,” Buchanan wrote, “most of whom aren’t even Walmart associates and don’t represent the views of our associates. This latest publicity stunt by the union to generate attention for their fleeting cause won’t impact the festivities.” Walmart has previously denied retaliating against employees for organizing.