Instead of fatal stampedes and horrific scenes of record-shattering consumerism, something good may finally happen on Black Friday at Wal-Marts across the country. The world's largest private employer is facing a massive walk-out from employees who are fed up with the chain's low pay, erratic scheduling, poor healthcare plans, and generally miserable, discriminatory working conditions. Despite a Wal-Mart spokesperson deriding the walkouts as "made-for-TV events" involving a "handful of associates," the company asked the NLRB to issue an injunction against the protests, something the government agency refused to do before Friday, calling the issue "complex." OUR Walmart, an activist group comprising of former Wal-Mart employees, estimates that 1,000 of the chain's 4,000 chains will be affected.
"Walmart, not a company that likes to waste money, is paying workers to sit in a room and be lectured to about why they should not participate in these strikes," Nation reporter Josh Eidelson told Democracy Now, adding that one employee in Oklahoma told him that at one such meeting, they asked if they could be fired for participating in the walkout. "The answer was, no comment. And the manager left."
A labor attorney with the firm Steptoe & Johnson told the CSM that the protesters are likely to withstand any challenges from Wal-Mart: "The bottom line here is that labor would not be talking about this strike on Black Friday if they were not well aware that there are ways to pull it off without violating the law. Labor holds the upper hand here so long as they are able to persuade a sufficient number of employees to participate to make the impact felt."
Wal-Mart employees are so underpaid that they are the number one reason behind the burgeoning role of food stamps in the country. Wal-Mart's CEO makes more money in one hour than nearly all of the chain's employees will earn in a year. A worker making $20 an hour told Allison Kilkenny that he and his better-paid peers are "required to be [Wal-Mart's] slaves," and cited an instance in which he loaded heavy boxes in sub-zero temperatures with an open wound to his leg because a supervisor didn't want the injury recorded.
Meanwhile, the chain has received more than $1.2 billion in tax breaks, grants, and land from the government to build its vast empire (not to mention the massive bribery scheme the company ran to corner the market in Mexico). The workers are striking for a raise of their minimum wage to $13, and for affordable health care, a better work schedule, and overall better working conditions.
In Secaucus, Occupy Wall Street protesters will join members of OUR Walmart and other labor organizations for a protest outside the Wal-Mart at 400 Park Place at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, while other Occupy-affiliated groups across the country will provide support for walkouts in other regions.