OAKLAND, Calif. - The Walmart store here was buzzing with noontime traffic Oct. 10, as dozens of union and community members gathered by the entrance, to show their support for Walmart workers around the country who are standing up to win respect and better working conditions.
The gathering was one of five such actions in the San Francisco Bay Area, and among some 200 taking place around the country.
Meanwhile, striking Walmart associates from 28 stores in 12 states were gathering at Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., during the company's annual meeting with financial analysts, to protest the giant retailer's retaliation against workers increasingly speaking out for labor rights and livable wages.
In Oakland, the Walmart workers' supporters gathered around a woman describing herself as the store's interim manager, who politely but firmly refused to accept the letter the activists brought, referring them instead to "media relations."
After a brief rally with representatives of Jobs with Justice and the Alameda Labor Council, participants fanned out across the vast parking lot to talk with customers, encouraging them to sign petitions supporting the workers' demands.
Pausing briefly from her discussions with customers, Simone Mock, who works for a different retailer, said the Walmart associates' struggle has ripple effects for other workers and for the community as a whole. "By working to better the situation of Walmart's associates, we're bettering the whole community," she said. "We're not trying to put Walmart out of business, but rather, saying, be mindful of the community."
Katie Loncke of the East Bay Solidarity Network said she was there because it takes "courage" for workers to exercise their "powerful but latent ability" to confront giant corporations. Young people need to step forward to support workers' struggles, she said, because today's struggles will affect them in the future.
The Walmart strikers have gone out because of the retaliation they are facing for speaking out against poverty wages, unaffordable health care and other workplace issues, said Ellouise Patton of Good Jobs and Healthy Communities. "A corporation that made $16 billion in profits last year can afford to improve conditions for its associates," she said, citing a study by the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley, showing that if Walmart customers were to spend just 46 cents more per shopping trip, both workers and the surrounding community would benefit.
The Oct. 10 actions followed last month's strike and 50-mile march by workers at a southern California warehouse supplying Walmart stores, and a strike by Illinois warehouse workers. These were followed by the first-ever strike of Walmart associates, in Pico Rivera, Calif.
Photo: Simone Mock gets a Walmart customer to sign a petition supporting the workers' rights. Marilyn Bechtel/PW