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First-Ever Walmart Sit-In: A Corporation In Decline, Its Workers On the Rise

Raise the minimum wage illo

A protest at a Los Angeles-area Walmart has ended in some two dozen arrests.

Authorities say 23 men and women were arrested Thursday after they blocked traffic at a Pico Rivera intersection during a protest that began with a sit-down strike inside the local Walmart.

The sit-in strike, which took place earlier that morning and went on for two hours, resulted in no arrests.

“Is this store open or is this store closed?” a woman asked as she walked through the store, around noon local time.

She was confused as about 20 Walmart workers, out of their uniform and off the clock, were sitting along the aisle, their mouths covered with green tape and the word strike written across it.

The workers were staging a sit-in to protest the store’s treatment of workers like them, claiming that the company often retaliates against employees who demand fair treatment and speak out against company’s policies.

“I really don’t like how this store does things, but the prices ... ,” said the woman before she walked away.

The sit-in strike, the first of its kind for Walmart workers, went on for about two hours. Managers of the store came by and checked protesters’ IDs and discount cards to verify that they really were Walmart employees.

Customers, who happened onto the protest, stopped and read signs.

“People sitting here, getting paid for nothing,” one shopper grumbled as he walked by.

“Y’all are doing the right thing,” said another woman as she read their signs, clucking her tongue at their low pay. As she walked away, she yelled: “Fuck Walmart!”

“Today we focused on serving our customers, but every day we’re focused on the opportunity that we offer our associates across the country,” said Walmart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan.

A memo from 2 October, obtained by the New York Times, shows that the retailer has put pressure on its 4,965 stores to discount ageing meat and “rotate” dairy produce and eggs – removing expired items and adding the freshest items to the back of display cases. So many Walmart stores are understaffed that employees have no time to keep food fresh.

“Labor hours have been cut so thin, that they don’t have the people to do many activities,” Burt P Flickinger III, a retail consultant, told the Times. “The fact that they don’t do some of these things every day, every shift, shows what a complete breakdown Walmart has in staffing and training.”

According to Wolfe Research, if employee growth had kept up with square footage growth, Walmart would have 200,000 more employees than its current 1.3 million workers.

Besides protesting retaliation and low wages, Walmart employees were also striking for better hours.

When two hours were up and the workers were about to leave the store, they launched into a song. “Which side are you on, Walmart?” they sang, followed by chants of “Whose Walmart? Our Walmart!”

The sit-in was live-streamed on blackfridayprotests.org. The site urges consumers to take action against Walmart, and sign a petition supporting $15-an-hour pay for Walmart worker and participate in the Black Friday protests that the workers are planning to hold on 28 November.

This piece was originally published by The Guardian.

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