A press conference call by the activist group OUR Walmart turned awkward when the group was repeatedly unable to say how many Walmart employees had joined in the group's long-planned Black Friday protests. Walmart itself put the figure at just 20.
"I don't have an actual count," said Our Walmart member Martha Sellers, a cashier at a Paramount, Calif., store, said in response to a reporter's question. "I know Walmart is saying that workers are not participating. That is wrong. They are."
Asked variations of the same question by two other reporters — one asked what percentage of protesters were Walmart employees — the activists again could not answer and grew noticeably frustrated. "It is awful that Walmart is spreading these kinds of lies," Sellers said.
Walmart spokeswoman Kory Lundberg told the Washington Examiner that most of the protesters were not employees and that those who were did not walk off the job.
"Fewer than 20 current associates have participated so far, and we’ve only seen six demonstrations with a current associate," Lundberg said. "Associate" is Walmart's term for an employee.
OUR Walmart, a subsidiary of United Food and Commercial Workers, claims to have organized 1,500 protests at stores nationwide Friday to highlight the nonunion retailer's low wages. Arrests were reported at stores in California and Virginia. At the latter protest, only one person arrested was reported to be an associate at that store.
UFCW has long sought to unionize Walmart's workers. It staged a series of protests at stores after Thanksgiving last year, hoping to disrupt the store during the one busiest shopping days of the year. Walmart claimed that only about 100 of its associates joined in those events. OUR Walmart had offered associates $50 gift cards to join in, a practice the National Labor Relations Board deemed a noncoercive form of strike pay. In some past instances, protesters appear to have been bused in.
The union has struggled to get Walmart associates to join other protests. A survey of local media coverage after a series of September events found numerous examples where the protests had only one or two associates, if any.
At a store in Landover, Md., which was the site of an OUR Walmart post-Thanksgiving protest last year, no protests were seen this time.
"They talked about doing it, the unions, but nobody showed up," said a local police officer at the store.
Instead, the store's employees were busy dealing with customers. "I'd like to ask for more, but any day you have a job is a good day," said one employee.