November 26, 2012
The official start of the holiday shopping season infringes earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Day. Wal-Mart opened for business at 8:00 PM on Thursday evening, forcing hundreds of thousands of Wal-Mart workers nationwide to report for work.
The National Retail Federation is estimating this year’s shopping season will be up 4.1 percent to $586 billion, while Wal-Mart reported profit of $3.63 billion in the third quarter. But Wal-Mart sales associates and cashiers earn less than $9 an hour, and many on Black Friday took part in a national day of action to protest Wal-Mart’s tactics of intimidating and firing workers demanding better working conditions.
One of the actions took place on the opposite side of the Hudson River where one of the biggest Wal-Mart stores in the country sits in Secaucus, New Jersey. A coalition of organizations such as WalMart Free NYC, ALIGN-NY, Retail Action Project, The Black Institute and members from RWDSU and UFCW locals, rallied outside the store to show solidarity with Wal-Mart workers who staged a one-day walkout in Southern California in October in response to the company’s firing of workers trying to organize.
Peter Busacca, President of the Hudson County Central Labor Council, was joined by numerous union members as they marched in front of the store.
“We’re here to show solidarity with Wal-Mart workers on Black Friday. Many of the workers in this store are afraid to speak up out of fear they’ll be fired it they protest,” said Busacca.
He noted that compared to other Wal-Mart employees nationwide, the Secaucus-based employees earn a higher wage by virtue of being in a market where employers pay higher wages. But just like other Wal-Mart employees, the workers in Secaucus don’t work full-time hours.
“They’re only scheduled for 32 hours weeks rather than 40, but how can anyone raise a family on $400 per week at $10 an hour?”
Charles Hall, President of RWDSU, Local 100 in Maplewood, N.J, which represents 5,000 private and public sector workers, said that Wal-Mart’s low wages make it difficult for smaller grocers to compete, and thereby making it more difficult for the local to win improved benefits during contract negotiations.
“There are community grocers such as Food Bazaar and Extra Supermarkets who offer competitive wages and benefits, but when a Wal-Mart opens up nearby they tell me that their being undercut by Wal-Mart’s low prices and low wages,” said Hall.
According to Stephanie Yazgi, spokeswoman for WalMart Free NYC, which is opposing Wal-Mart’s attempts to enter the New York City market, the company has refused to meet with the Organization United for Respect, an association comprised of Wal-Mart employees.
“Wal-Mart has agreed only to meet with the association’s members individually, which epitomizes the company’s poor track record. We don’t feel that they can be trusted and until we do, we don’t want them to open in New York City,” said Yazgi.
Wal-Mart is spearheading an all-out public relations campaign to convince New Yorkers that its low prices would benefit consumers by eliminating food deserts, urban areas with little or no access to stores that offer fresh and affordable foods. But WalMart Free NYC’s longstanding opposition contributed to Wal-Mart’s decision to withdraw its bid to open a store in East New York’s Gateway II mall. The Related Companies will be leasing the mall space to ShopRite, a union shop.
“We’re happy to see development companies starting to understand that communities across the city are opposed to Wal-Mart’s unbridled expansion without some sort of accountability to their workers,” said Yazgi.
But she noted also that the coalition is not necessarily opposed to Wal-Mart’s entry. However, the company’s history of bribing officials in Mexico to grow its business and its retaliation against workers for organizing doesn’t charm many New Yorkers.