This month, something quite remarkable happened in America. Hundreds of Walmart workers who don’t have a union stood up to the company, knowing that it has a long history of illegally retaliating against its employees. In a high unemployment economy, they went on strike for a short time and protested at the firm’s annual shareholder meeting. They are members of the employee group Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart).
In Boulder, the Coalition for Social and Environmental Responsibility in Boulder (CSERB) supports OUR Walmart by picketing the Walmart at 28th and Iris every second Saturday of each month.
CSERB leader Matt Nicodemus points out that this strike was “not the same as a unionized worker joining a company-wide work stoppage. Though she is part of a widespread collective action and therefore within her rights to strike, the associate may be the only one protesting within her own store and managers have all sorts of ways of intimidating and punishing ‘troublemakers.’ It takes real bravery to step out and publicly challenge the company in that way.”
There were three Colorado strikers: Barb Gertz (Aurora store), Lashanda Myrick and Jasmine Dixon (Commerce City store). Barb and Lashanda spoke at a CSERB meeting at Boulder’s Unity Spiritual Center before the strike.
Gertz and Myrick work the night shift because they can get more hours and pay that way. Most Walmart associates are part-time. Barb’s store cut 70 employees and now she has tendonitis and “the constant pressure of doing the work of two people.”
Myrick says, “the work is hard on your body… lifting heavy boxes and climbing up and down ladders.”
Gertz went on strike last year and was interviewed by local and national reporters. When she came back to her store, fellow workers “were mad at me. They deliberately avoided me.”
Later, she was arrested for trying to talk with a Walmart board member in New York City. When she returned to her store that time, workers came up to her and asked why she did it. She said she did it for all of them. Her act of nonviolent civil disobedience changed their attitude.
“I got respect,” she says.
Myrick is a single mom with a 12-year-old daughter and a son who just graduated from high school. On average, she makes $375 every two weeks and receives food stamps. She says, “Recently I picked up more hours at Walmart, but it forces me to work the night shift. So every night before I go to work, I have to take my daughter to my mother’s house. It’s hard not being there for your child in the middle of the night. It’s hard not to be able to tuck her in. And when she wakes up in the middle of the night looking for me, there is nothing I can do.
“We don’t live above our means. My daughter wears hand-me-downs and it is very difficult trying to put clothes on a teenage boy. Many times, I have to choose between buying shoes for either my daughter or my son. That is no choice any parent should have to make.”
On June 3, about 80 people rallied for the strikers at a park across the street from the Commerce City Walmart. Ten CSERB members came from Boulder. Pregnant Walmart striker Jasmine Dixon told us the company refused her request for “light duty” and threatened to fire her if she followed orders by her doctor for bed rest. She is confined to a wheelchair due to pregnancy complications.
Recently, the bullying giant got in a little trouble with the feds. In January, the National Labor Relations Board filed a formal complaint against Walmart, alleging that the company violated the rights of nearly 70 workers rallying over workplace conditions in 14 states.
The complaint, the largest ever against Walmart, refers to charges made in November 2012 during the Black Friday actions by associates speaking out for respect on the job and for Walmart to publicly commit to provide regular hours and a living wage of $25,000 a year. The complaint alleges Walmart illegally fired and disciplined nearly 70 workers in 34 stores.
Is this America? Shouldn’t the Bill of Rights apply to the workplace?
Dave Anderson is a long-time Democratic Socialists of America activist in Boulder, Colorado. This is his most recent column for the Boulder Weekly, and, course, is his opinion and not that of the Weekly.