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Walmart workers and their allies organize a movement that could ripple through the retail industry

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Workers at Walmart's Richmond store protest what they called their mistreatment by the company.
PHOTO BY KASI FARRAR

These rights have been on the books for 75 years, however, and workers know it's common for employers to fire people who lead protests or union drives. OURWalmart's strategy is to use publicity as a protection against retaliation.

While they say retaliation still occurs, workers won an oblique victory when Huffington Post published a leaked seven-page memo from Walmart management dated just before the Oct. 10 strike. The memo instructed local managers not to retaliate against workers who walked out.

Walmart spokesperson Fogelman emphasized that, "We have strict rules prohibiting retaliation," adding that if any employees feel they have experienced retaliation, "we want to hear about it." He pointed to Walmart's Open Door policy, which encourages any employee to bring issues to managers.

The catch, say OURWalmart members, is that the door is open to only one employee at a time. "We find matters are best resolved on a personal level," explained Fogelman.

"Open Door doesn't work," responded Richmond Walmart worker Hammod. "There are two or three of them and only one of us. They can twist your words any way. The only way is to show unity."

Despite what he said is a clear pattern of retaliation, San Leandro Walmart worker Ware added that open protest is important because it's "leading by example." Simone Mock, a UFCW member on leave from her grocery-store job to work for Making Change at Walmart, said the company creates "an intimidating atmosphere. That's why it's so powerful when someone does speak up. The other workers see it, and it's contagious."

 

A MAJOR IMPACT

Labor and community activists say the workers' actions are contagious beyond Walmart. Since the Southern California strikes, said San Francisco Jobs With Justice (JWJ) coordinator Gordon Mar, "We're seeing a tremendous amount of excitement and interest, people contacting JWJ asking 'how can I get involved?'"

When JWJ and the Work and Families Coalition (WFC) called an initial meeting of supporters in San Francisco last month, "the response was overwhelming," said Jenya Cassidy of the WFC. It's not just activists, she added — "parents at my kids' school are excited about it."

"I hope this really sparks something," Cassidy added. "It has already, at least in people's imaginations." Some respond to the very idea of challenging Walmart: "I look it like David and Goliath," said Richmond Walmart worker Bravo.

Beyond the dramatic appeal, change at Walmart would "have a major impact throughout the whole economy," Mar said.

"Walmart is the number one retailer in the world," explained San Leandro Walmart worker Ware. "If Wamart changes, all the other [companies] all down the line will have to change." www.forrespect.org www.makingchangeatwalmart.org

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