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Topics: Labor Unions

Walmart workers protests modest so far

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Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Walmart

Planned protests in 15 cities against Walmart appear to have fizzled as only a minuscule number of the retail giant's 1.3 million employees participated, according to sources on both sides.

A full independent estimate is not currently available.

"At this point, we have zero reports of walkouts," Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg told the Washington Examiner. He said the company was monitoring the planned protest sites but "we don't see any of our associates participating."

An official involved with organizing the protests told the Examiner that they were expecting "hundreds" of Walmart employees to turn out. They would have a better handle on number later today, the official, who requested anonymity, said.

Moira Bulloch, an organizer of a protest at Hyattsville, Md., scheduled for 5 pm Thursday, said a crowd of "300-400" was expected, of which "two or three dozen" will be actual Walmart employees.

A video clip of one New York City event tweeted out by the protesters themselves shows the sparseness of the crowd. There are no Walmart stores in New York City.

The protests were organized primarily by the United Food and Commercial Workers, which has long struggled to organize the nonunion retail giant. The UFCW also represents workers at three of Walmart's major rivals, including Kroger, Safeway and Giant.

Bulloch identified herself as an employee of the union, whose primary outlet for organizing the protests is a nonprofit activist group called OUR Walmart.

Lundberg questioned how many of the protesters were in fact current Walmart employees. Three protesters were arrested in New York City after attempting to crash a meeting with Walmart executives. Only one of the individuals arrested was a Walmart employee.

"UFCW had to fly people in from Denver, Iowa and South Carolina to get arrested," Lundberg said.

Only about 2,600 individuals have signed a petition on the OUR Walmart web site that invites Walmart employees to support the protests.

The efforts follow on a series of walkouts the UFCW tried to spark the day after Thanksgiving 2012. Dubbed by organizers as "Black Friday," that effort also fizzled. Walmart claimed only 50 employees joined the effort. The union put the figure at closer to 400. Neither figure could be independently verified.

The UFCW has nevertheless kept at it, arguing that Walmart's wages are too low and that the company has retaliated against associates who tried to protest the working conditions.

In a Tuesday statement announcing the protests, OUR Walmart said it was pushing for an annual average wage of $25,000 for workers in the retail industry.

"Rather than providing good jobs that American workers need and deserve, Walmart is trying to silence workers who are standing up with their co-workers to live better and spending its time and money trying to deny workers a decent day’s pay," it said.

According to the website payscale.com, Walmart typically pays 2 percent below the median wage for its industry.

Although UFCW would clearly like to unionize Walmart, the current effort is disingenuously being presented as a grassroots effort to get the retailer to adhere to labor rights. Otherwise, Walmart could protest it as an illegal strike and demand the National Labor Relations Board sanction the union.

Hence the following disclaimer at the end of the news release: "UFCW and OUR Walmart have the purpose of helping Wal-Mart (sic) employees as individuals or groups in their dealings with Wal-Mart (sic) over labor rights and standards and their efforts to have Wal-Mart publically (sic) commit to adhering to labor rights and standards. UFCW and OUR Walmart have no intent to have Walmart recognize or bargain with UFCW or OUR Walmart as the representative of Walmart employees."

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