By Connor D. Wolf
Workers for the retail giant Walmart began fasting Friday in a protest expected to last until Black Friday to demand higher wages and more benefits.
The protest is being led by the opposition OUR Walmart, and will end during the group’s fourth annual Black Friday protest. The protest aims to put pressure on the company during one of its busiest days of year.
“This Black Friday, Walmart workers are taking on the wealthiest family in the country,” a message from the OUR Walmart website declared. “Walmart is the largest private employer in the world and it’s a perfect picture of everything that’s wrong with our unequal economy. Far too many Walmart workers continue to live in poverty and rely on public programs like food stamps to survive.”
Former and current Walmart workers as well as supporters are participating, reports CNN. Currently more than 100 current employees and more than 900 supporters have signed on to participate. The retailer employs more than 1.4 million associates at more than 5,000 stores and clubs in just the United States.
“While Walmart rakes in $16 billion a year in profits,” the message continued. “The Walton family that controls Walmart has more wealth than 43 percent of Americans combined.”
Walmart is dismissing the protests. The company argues the protest is coming from unions and is more a media stunt. The company has already raised wagesfor employees this past year and says it plans to invest $2.7 billion more going into next year.
“False attacks and media stunts from the unions have become an annual tradition this time of year,” the company said in a statement to Reuters. As previously noted, the protest is the fourth in as many years.
OUR Walmart has been in the spotlight before over questionable activities. It has weathered criticism from groups like Worker Center Watch for allegedly using protests as a means to illegally help the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) unionize Walmart employees. A former union organizer, Rian Wathen, claimed November 2014 that the group was violating the law by trying to get Walmart workers into union ranks.
It is not uncommon for unions to utilize worker groups like OUR Walmart. Such groups do not have the same legal restrictions unions would have. They can reach out to employees and declare protests much more easily. At the same time, National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) rules prohibit worker groups from helping to unionize employees without filing a petition for an election. Once signed, the group would then be subjected to the same restrictions unions face.
The protest is also the first major action by OUR Walmart since it split in two back in September. The split was due in large part over a disagreement among its union backer. The side leading the protest no longer has financial support by the UFCW. Union members recently elected new leadership that ran on a platform to put an end to the OUR Walmart campaign. The AFL-CIO has since stepped in to support the splinter OUR Walmart group.
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