21 Clergy and Walmart Workers Arrested as Hundreds Rally to Protest Illegal Retaliation, Low Wages

CONTACT: Elizabeth Brennan at 213-999-2164, Elizabeth.brennan@changetowin.org
Allison Mannos at 323-706-8320, Amannos@laane.org

LOS ANGELES—Twenty-one current people, including seven current Walmart workers, two former Walmart workers and 12 members of the clergy, were arrested today at the intersection of Cesar Chavez and Broadway in Los Angeles’  Chinatown at 2 p.m. today.

More than 1,000 Walmart workers and their supporters marched through Downtown Los Angeles calling on the company to reinstate illegally fired and disciplined workers, improve jobs and end the company’s aggressive violations of their rights.

Those arrested raised serious concerns about Walmart’s presence in Los Angeles including its negative effects on workers and communities. Chinatown is the site of a hotly-contested proposed Walmart Neighborhood Market and yesterday a Superior Court judge blocked the construction of a Walmart in Burbank after residents filed a lawsuit. Walmart employees from Southern California stores led a spirited march with 1,000 supporters past Walmart’s Downtown office and Los Angeles City Hall to the historic gates of Chinatown.

“It’s our duty as Americans to speak up for ourselves,” said Anthony Goytia, an overnight stocker at the Duarte Walmart and one of the nine current or former Walmart workers who was arrested. . “We cannot wait any longer for Walmart management and executives to improve jobs at our stores. Today we are letting Walmart know that they can’t push us around, they can’t bully us. We are human beings.”

Since June, Walmart has illegally disciplined nearly 80 workers, including firing 20 worker-leaders. More than 100 Unfair Labor Practice charges have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against Walmart.  Workers in California recently announced that

that, after an investigation, the NLRB regional office found that Walmart committed 11 violations of national labor law.

“Working at Walmart is like this: You get a check for $732, rent is $700, you put $20 in the gas tank and then you have $12 left over for food,” said Martha Sellers, a cashier at the Paramount Walmart for the last ten years. “No one should have to live this way. I work for the largest retailer in the world and they make billions of dollars. Walmart can afford to give us full time hours so that we can pay our bills and pay our rent, put gas in the tank and feed our families.”

Last year, Walmart made $16 billion in profit and the Waltons (the majority of the owners of the company) are the richest family in the world.  However, many Walmart workers continue to earn, on average, poverty wages of $8.81 an hour, despite misleading claims from Walmart that wages are higher. A Congressional report released earlier this calculates the Walmart workforce’s reliance on public assistance including food stamps, healthcare and other needs is estimated to cost taxpayers $900,000 per year. Currently, Walmart has 4,000 stores nationwide.

Workers are members of the growing national organization, OUR Walmart. OUR Walmart, or the Organization United for Respect at Walmart, formed two years ago, when 100 Walmart associates came together to voice their concerns about the company retaliating against those who speak out for better working conditions. With thousands of members across the country, the group organized the first strikes in company history last year and helped bring more than 30,000 supporters to protest at stores on Black Friday in 2012.  Martha Sellers of Paramount participated in the November strikes and was arrested in protest of Walmart’s illegal retaliation against employees in the street in front of the store where she works.

“American workers are in the trenches fighting for a better future for our entire country,” said Rev. William D. Smart, President and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “Walmart workers are an inspiration. They are standing up to the country’s largest employer and calling on Walmart to treat its employees with respect, pay workers $25,000 a year for full time work and be a leader in creating good jobs. Workers are the reasonable ones in this fight. Walmart and the Walton family should use their enormous profits and wealth to make sure American workers and our economy are financially sound.”

A report from the national public policy center Demos shows that better jobs at Walmart and other large retailers would even help the store’s bottom line, as well as having a positive impact on individual families and the larger economy. A wage floor equivalent of $25,000 per year for a full-time, year-round employee for retailers with more than 1000 employees would lift 1.5 million retail workers and their families out of poverty or near poverty, add to economic growth, increase retail sales and create more than 100,000 new jobs.

Ongoing labor mismanagement concerns, including Walmart’s inaction on ending illegal retaliation, improving jobs at stores and putting meaningful protections in place at its suppliers have contributed to record-levels of votes against Walmart Board of Directors and even shareholder divestment this year.

Economists, labor market experts and others have been increasingly voicing concern about the growing income inequality and its impact on our economy.

“More than 35 million Americans now live below the poverty line,” wrote former U.S. secretary of labor Robert Reich in a recent op-ed. “Many of them have jobs. The problem is that these jobs just don’t pay enough to lift their families out of poverty.”

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Follow the conversation and see photos at @ChangeWalmart, #WalmartStrikers and ChangeWalmart.org/Tumblr

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: UFCW and OUR Walmart have the purpose of helping Wal-Mart employees as individuals or groups in their dealings with Wal-Mart over labor rights and standards and their efforts to have Wal-Mart publically commit to adhering to labor rights and standards. UFCW and OUR Walmart have no intent to have Walmart recognize or bargain with UFCW or OUR Walmart as the representative of Walmart employees.

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