Walmart workers fight for collective-bargaining rights

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Posted: Friday, September 6, 2013 12:11 am | Updated: 10:57 am, Tue Apr 15, 2014.

Armed with a petition of more than 171,000 signatures, several protesters entered the Glenwood Avenue Walmart with no intention of shopping Thursday afternoon.  

The United Food & Commercial Workers International Union and OUR Walmart, an employee-run organization dedicated to ensuring that Walmart treats its workers with respect, led the movement, which called for the right for Walmart employees to collectively bargain and unionize without the risk of losing their jobs. 

Similar movements took place in 15 cities across the country Tuesday, after Walmart failed to meet a Labor Day deadline, set by OUR Walmart, to reinstate workers who the company allegedly fired for speaking out against it.

Protesters at the Raleigh demonstration presented their petition, which asked Walmart to stop retaliation against employees who exercise their right to unionize, to the management of the store in hopes that it would be passed along to company administration. However, when the store manager declined the petition, organizers began to chant “Walmart, respect your workers” before disbanding when police officers arrived. 

Tuesday’s protests were the largest demonstration against the company since last November’s Black Friday protests and were a necessary follow-up, according to Cheryl Plowe, a Walmart employee of 20-years who participated in the protest.

“It’s going to take time, but when you get to that mountain, you’ve got to move it,” Plowe said.

In addition to the right to unionize, protesters requested a living wage.

Director of the North Carolina Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project Carol Brooke said that and average Walmart worker makes $8.81 per hour. At this pay, an employee working 40 hours per week would still fall short of the 2013 Federal Poverty Level for a family of three, which is set at $19,530, according to Brooke.

MaryBe McMillan, secretary treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, a state labor union organization, emphasized Brooke’s point during a forum that took place shortly before the protest.

“We have Walmart workers who stock shelves with food but can’t feed their own kids,” McMillan said. “This kind of cruel irony cannot go unnoticed. The working poor cannot go unseen. And the causes of inequality cannot remain unspoken.”

McMillan pointed to the right to unionize as the key to improving working conditions for the nearly 51,000 Walmart employees in North Carolina. 

“If we can change the south, if we can change Walmart, the behemoth of corporate greed born here in the south, then we can change the nation,” McMillan said.

N.C. State Professor of history David Zonderman, also spoke at the forum, and though Zonderman said he was hesitant to be overly optimistic, he said that recent organization of workers, especially in the south, is promising.

“We’re not there yet, but potentially this really is the new generation of organizing,” Zonderman said.