Walmart employees who belong to the OUR Walmart movement plan Black Friday strikes in front of 1,600 stores to start the 2014 holiday shopping season. This continues a trend started in 2012 when the world's largest retailer chose to kick off Black Friday sales early by offering deep discounts on selected items on Thanksgiving Day instead of the day after.
Walmart employee Barbara Gertz of Denver told Nation of Change that Walmart workers participating in Black Friday strikes will position themselves close to stores in major metropolitan areas such as Denver and Los Angeles. The aim is to educate shoppers about Walmart's low wages and management's retaliation tactics against striking workers.
This new round of Black Friday strikes follow a first-ever sit-in at a Walmart store that occurred two weeks before the big shopping day. Workers at a Los Angeles store sat down in a busy aisle, chanted, held up signs and placed tape over their mouths in a symbolic show of civil disobedience. In October 2014, workers were arrested in New York and Washington due to protests in support of a $15-per-hour wage.
Calls for better working conditions at Walmart have reached a new high, due in part to Walmart's insistence on huge Black Friday deals. The company expects 1 million workers to show up for duty on Thanksgiving because the store is open all day, with Black Friday specials beginning at 6 p.m. Workers at 2,100 stores signed an online petition demanding better wages. The retail giant plans to discount electronics starting at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, including a $100 markdown on portable speakers to go along with cheaper Blu-ray DVDs, kitchen appliances and toys.
Will Black Friday strikes make a difference this year? Employees, who do not belong to a union, seem to be organizing better each year with more headline-grabbing tactics. In 2012, there were a few demonstrations in major cities. Approximately 70 Walmart employees walked off the job Thanksgiving Day two years ago, and 19 of them were from one store. In 2013, protests occurred at 1,500 stores in 100 cities across the country, and more than 110 people were arrested in acts of civil disobedience. One major incident included 26 people arrested in St. Paul, Minnesota, after Walmart workers blocked traffic leading up to a store to protest the company's employment practices.
Despite these organized protests, Walmart doesn't have to employ workers who cross a picket line because all workers, full- and part-time, are non-union. Walmart employees who demonstrate against their company participate in risky behavior that can get them fired.
Organizers estimate that "tens of thousands" of other people in the community plan to support Black Friday strikes at Walmart stores. Stephanie Ly, president of American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, told Nation of Change that community organizers plan flash mobs, marches and prayer vigils to back up Walmart employees who participate in demonstrations.
As many as two-thirds of American shoppers plan to brave huge crowds for the best Black Friday deals in 2014, thanks in part to low gas prices and a better economy. Along with cheaper consumer goods, some shoppers may have to contend with Black Friday strikes at Walmart stores. Shoppers looking for a bargain will probably outnumber striking workers, and that supports Walmart's overall bottom line and encourages investors.
Photo courtesy of CAW Media at Flickr.com