An organization of Walmart workers is planning a series of strikes next week that they hope will paralyze the world's largest retailer on the biggest shopping day of the year.
Employees will stage 1,000 unique protests around the country on Black Friday, a United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) official said on a conference call Thursday afternoon. The events, most of which will take place at Walmart stores, will include walkouts, flash mobs, and "educating" shoppers on the workers' plight.
"We're seeing unprecedented support. In my 20 years of organizing I've never seen this kind of activity," said Dan Schlademan, Director of the UFCW's Making Change at Walmart campaign. "It's going to be a very creative day."
The strikers' diverse complaints center around what they call Walmart's "retaliation" against workers' attempts to organize. The company, according to the strikers, punishes employees who talk about unions or join in labor groups by cutting their hours or finding excuses to terminate them. As the largest private employeer in America and the world, Walmart sets the standards for labor conditions in the retail industry.
The strikers' demands, however, are amorphous at best. Beyond ending its fight to prevent workers from forming unions all together, it's unclear exactly what Walmart could do to appease the disgruntled employees. Walmart has regularly referred to the strikes as "publicity stunts."
Some workers have already begun to strike. On Thursday, workers at a Walmart store in Seattle walked off the job. On Wednesday, workers at a San Leandro, Calif., store also went on strike, as did others employed at a Riverdale, Calif., warehouse contracted by Walmart. On Thursday, six supporters who were not themselves employed at the warehouse were arrested after they sat down in the middle of a road outside the building where workers were striking.
The strikes began in October, when, for the first time ever, Walmart retail workers walked off the job at 28 stores around the country. While those strikes were historic, they were hardly far-reaching -- about 160 people went on strike, a minuscule percentage of Walmart's 1.4 million U.S. workers. This time around, OUR Walmart, the UFCW-backed worker group that is organizing the strikes, is vowing to be more disruptive.
Over the past month, OUR Walmart has recruited more people through social media campaigns. Strikers are finding each other through the group's Facebook page and Twitter hashtag #walmartstrikers. An online platform also allows supporters to "sponsor" strikers by donating money.
According to Schlademan, many Black Friday events will also occur online, in addition to the 1000-some actions planned around the country. Workers are planning to strike in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Washington D.C., Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana and Minnesota, a UFCW official said on the call.
The call also included Walmart workers, who explained why they personally planned to strike. Charlene Fletcher, an employee from Duarte, Calif., choked up with tears as she told reporters how much she "wanted to stand up and make a sacrifice."
“No matter how hard we work, my husband and I can’t catch up on our bills," Fletcher said.
Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.