CINCINNATI, Ohio - Hundreds of workers, labor, civic, and religious activists turned out recently at a Walmart here to demand fair wages and better treatment from the nation's largest private employer. Demonstrators marched, Sept. 5, chanting "Stand Up, Live Better," a variation of Walmart's advertising slogan "Save money, live better." Workers also chanted "Whose Walmart? OUR Walmart," a play on the name of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), the group of Walmart workers and former employees that organized the national day of action.
Thursday's actions were the largest since workers went on strike on Black Friday of last year to protest unfair labor practices.
The Cincinnati event was part of a larger national day of action that took place in 15 cities across the nation. The actions come in response to Walmart's illegal termination and/or discipline of over 70 employees who participated in unfair labor practices strikes last month. Walmart failed to meet a Labor Day deadline set by OUR Walmart for reinstating illegally terminated employees. Under federal law, employers may not terminate employees for participation in an unfair labor practices strike.
Seventy green balloons were released into the air, each one bearing the name of an employee who was subjected to Walmart's illegal retaliation. Protests were also held in New York, Chicago, Washington, Seattle, Baton Rouge, Miami, Orlando, and Los Angeles. The New York and Los Angeles actions saw the arrests of 24 demonstrators. The Cincinnati action did not include civil disobedience.
Growth of OUR Walmart in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Michigan has been greater than all other states combined.
"I joined OUR Walmart two years ago because I'm tired of Walmart bullying its associates," said Aaron Lawson, who works at a western Kentucky store. Walmart still refers to its employees as "associates" in accordance with the model set by its founder Sam Walton.
Walmart is the largest private employer in the world. The average full time Walmart associate makes about $15,500 a year, well below the poverty level for a family. Meanwhile, the six members of the Walton family-heirs to the Walmart fortune and near majority owners of the company-have a combined wealth of $93 billion. That's more than the bottom 30 percent of Americans combined.
"We're fighting the good fight. If Walmart can get away with taking advantage of its workers, then so can Kroger and Meijer. There's no progress without struggle. The little bit we do get, we work hard for," said Jamod Reed, a worker at a Cincinnati area Walmart.
According to Sophonisba Jamal, another Cincinnati Walmart worker, "The whole community would benefit if Walmart paid fair wages."
Sherry Brown of Indianapolis added, "They started me out at $7.65 as a cashier. Now I'm making $8.95 as a supervisor." Walmart claims its average wage in Indiana is $12.76, a claim refuted by OUR Walmart.
"I'm here for myself and my coworkers. We want wages that we can live on without having to resort to public assistance," said Melody McConnell of the Washington Courthouse, Ohio store.
Ohio state representative Denise Driehaus was on hand to lend her support. "This is about dignity. I have a lot of respect for the Walmart workers here today. You are the true heroes."
In response to this reporter's media inquiry, Walmart accused the union, United Food and Commercial Workers, of failing "to deliver more than a smattering of paid protesters at their 15 orchestrated events." This reporter found no paid protesters at the Cincinnati event.
Photo by Andrew Cone