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Issue #1610      September 11, 2013

Walmart workers protest illegal firings

SAN FRANCISCO: Across the nation on September 5, Walmart workers struck again, and rallied with union and community supporters in some 15 cities. Besides San Francisco, actions took place in New York City, Washington DC, Seattle, Boston, Chicago, Dallas and other cities. Protesters were arrested here and in a number of locations.

The Organisation United for Respect (OUR) at Walmart, a national association of Walmart workers, is calling on the retail giant to pay its employees a minimum of $25,000 a year. OUR Walmart charges the company has illegally disciplined nearly 80 worker-leaders, including firing 20, since a June action brought 100 striking workers to share their stories at a Walmart shareholders meeting in Benton, Arkansas.

When the company failed to change its practices by a Labour Day deadline, OUR Walmart responded with the September 5 actions.

To date over 100 unfair labour practice charges against Walmart have been filed with the National Labour Relations Board.

The September 5 actions continue a wave of strikes and other actions by Walmart and other low wage workers, including last week’s nationwide strike by fast food workers.

In San Francisco, workers and their supporters marched in a lively mass down the city’s main thoroughfare, Market Street, to the Four Seasons Hotel, where Walmart board member Marissa Mayer lives in a penthouse atop the hotel.

There, they urged Mayer to speak out against the company’s illegal efforts to intimidate and threaten Walmart workers who call for better pay, more hours and respect at work.

Rally MC and fired Walmart worker Dominic Ware called attention to a petition to Walmart’s board, being circulated online.

“Listen to us! Use the power that you have while you’re on Walmart’s board of directors,” declared Raymond Bravo, a maintenance worker fired from the Richmond, California store for “absences” while he joined last year’s Black Friday strike and the journey to Arkansas in June.

“I went on strike; I had that right,” he told the crowd. “Walmart fired me illegally for speaking out. And they won’t admit that what they did was wrong.”

Pam Davis, a fired electronics department manager, also from the Richmond store, described her struggles to fulfil the company’s demands with too few associates and too little time, and Walmart management’s indifference to her concerns. “I’m fired, but I’m not giving in,” she told the crowd.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 president Ron Lind said his union is proud to support the strikers, but emphasised that the UFCW is not running the Walmart workers’ movement. “The Walmart workers are pushing us, inspiring us, leading us,” he said. “We’re with all retail workers; keep up the fight!”

Before the program, Ware said he is demanding not just to be rehired, but to be reinstated with the wages he was paid at the time he was fired.

After the firing, Ware said, he lost his home, and has been unable to continue his education at Oakland’s Laney College, where he is majoring in philosophy. He plans ultimately to become a teacher. Though the firing “put him in a bad place,” he vowed to continue pushing the struggle for workers’ fair treatment.

Among workers and supporters arrested and later released were Unite Here Local 2 president Mike Casey, and Pam Tau Lee, a founder and leader of the Chinese Progressive Association.

A study released in May by Democratic Party staffers at the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and the Workforce details the great degree to which taxpayer-funded public benefit programs are picking up the tab for Walmart’s low wages.

The study estimates that a single 300-person Walmart supercentre in Wisconsin costs taxpayers somewhere between $900,000 and $1,700,000 a year to subsidise workers paid the retailer’s poverty wages.

People’s World

Next article – Can Tunisia’s labour union ride to the rescue?

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