Employees of Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) in 15 cities across the U.S. are mobilizing this morning to begin their biggest protest since picketing on Black Friday last November. As part of that protest, about 400 workers walked off the job and joined thousands of other supporters at hundreds of stores across the country.
The points at hand are wages, working conditions and a quest to have employees reinstated that were supposedly fired for participating in strikes and trying to organize fellow workers to call for better jobs.
The protests are being organized by “OUR Walmart,” and abridged name for the union-backed “Organization United for Respect at Walmart.” OUR Walmart works closely with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. On that point, reports say that many of the protestors across the country are not actually Walmart employees, but union workers, as the unions look to fight for an increase in the minimum wage.
The organization had previously set a Labor Day deadline for Walmart to raise its wages to at least $25,000 per year and reinstate employees that were fired after a strike in June. OUR Walmart contests that the firings violated the National Labor Relations Act, an allegation that Walmart denies, saying no employees have been disciplined for protest activity.
Regarding wages, full-time hourly workers at Walmart average about $12.80 per hour currently, according to Walmart, the biggest retailer in the U.S. This number can likely be considered skewed as it excludes part-time workers and includes some higher-paid hourly employees, such as department managers.
Walmart CEO Mike Duke recently commented to CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, “I think less than 1% of our associates make the minimum wage. The vast majority of our associates are paid more than that.”
In the past, Walmart has actually been supportive of raising the country’s minimum wage. In 2005, then CEO H. Lee Scott Jr. backed a change from the minimum wage only being $5.15 per hour. Things seem to be different now, though, with the company aborting a plan to open three new stores in Washington D.C. after a the City Council in July passed a bill to raise minimum wages for large retailers, like Walmart, to $12.50 per hour. The bill is currently at the desk of Mayor Vince Gray, with all parties wondering if he will veto the bill or not.
Walmart shirked off the Black Friday protests, the June strike (and a smattering of other strikes) and appears to be letting this one run its course as well.
Protests are scheduled in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Seattle, Denver, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Cincinnati, Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston, New York, Washington, DC, Orlando and Miami.
Reports also say that picketers will be outside the house of Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! (YHOO) and a board member at Walmart.
Fast food workers at McDonald’s (MCD) staged protests last month, demanding better wages. More protests are anticipated this month amongst that industry as the acrimonious dispute looks to be gaining a bit of steam.
Shares of WMT are trading ahead about one-half a percent in morning trading at $73.28.