Nationwide, a reported 111 people were arrested at various Black Friday protests against Walmart last week, a number progressive activists have cited as proof that there is growing worker discontent against the retail giant.
The key word here is "people." How many of those arrested actually worked at the stores? Walmart has claimed that no more than 20 of its employees joined in the protests. OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart, the union-backed groups that organized the protests, declined to give a figure during a conference call Friday. (Walmart is nonunion)
Maxford Nelsen, a labor policy policy analyst with the conservative Freedom Foundation, has combed through the records of 15 people who were arrested on misdemeanor "failure to disperse" charges at a Bellevue, Washington protest. He could find only three people who actually had worked at a Walmart and only one who was a current employee. One of the former Walmart workers who was arrested has been active in other protests, including one at Walmart's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.
"Nearly all [of the 15 arrested] were paid activists with ties to organized labor," Nelson said. Four were current or former union officials and three work with labor-oriented activist groups. Nelson could find no records regarding the remaining five.
One of the former Walmart employees, Shana Stonehouse, told KIRO radio in Seattle that only three Walmart employees were at the protest. "None of [the protesters] besides myself and two other people actually worked for Walmart. They were just people supporting us standing up against Walmart," Stonehouse said.
This is fairly typical of the Walmart protests. The retailer has claimed that only about 100 of its employees participated in the Black Friday protests last year. After a series of protests in September, various local media reports indicated that in many cases the protests had only one or two Walmart employees present, if that.