(Recasts with Black Friday protests planned)
By Nathan Layne
CHICAGO, Nov 14 (Reuters) - A group of Walmart employees pushing for higher wages said on Friday they were planning protests at 1,600 Walmart stores nationwide on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year in the United States.
The labor group, Our Walmart, said it had protested 1,200 to 1,400 Walmart stores last year on Black Friday, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc, owner of Walmart brand stores, and the largest private employer in the United States, has been a target for activists in the contentious national debate over proposals to raise the minimum wage.
The announcement comes a day after police arrested 23 people outside a Los Angeles-area Walmart protesting what they say are the company's low wages and its retaliation against employees who pushed for better working conditions.
The arrests on Thursday followed several hours of protest by a number of Walmart workers in California, according to Our Walmart and The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, or UFCW.
About 30 workers entered a Walmart store in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles on Thursday morning and held a sit-down protest for two hours, UFCW spokesman Marc Goumbri said.
The workers then protested at a Walmart store in Pico Rivera in eastern Los Angeles where the arrests eventually took place.
"Over the last year, Walmart workers have pressured Walmart to change its pregnancy policy, provide access to more hours and most recently to pledge to phase out its minimum wage jobs," the UFCW said on its website.
The 23 people arrested were blocking an intersection and were cited for failure to disperse and then released, police said.
Asked about the workers' complaints, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said the company does not retaliate against workers who strike or protest.
"The reality is that few Walmart associates participate in these labor-organized protests," she said.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc Chief Executive Douglas McMillon last month said the company would work to phase out minimum wage jobs "over time," a move seen as largely symbolic as just 6,000 of its 1.3 million U.S. workers make minimum wage.
The average full-time hourly wage at Walmart stores is $12.92, compared with the federal minimum wage of $7.25, according to the company. (Additional reporting by Shailaja Sharma in Bangalore and Fiona Ortiz in Chicago; Editing by Susan Heavey)