A small group of protesters took to the Wal-Mart in Oakland on Wednesday - the day before the big Black Friday shopping spree - to march around in the store and highlight ways that they feel the big box chain undermines the middle class.
Similar Wal-Mart protests were mirrored around the country.
“If Wal-Mart did its fair share and paid associates a living wage, it would support children and help so many families," Efuru Lynch of Alameda County said. "Wal-Mart makes big profits on low wages, but parents like me pay the price because Wal-Mart adds to the crisis in child care assistance."
At the Oakland store on Edgewater, about 25 people gathered with signs, chanting about what they see as unfair labor practices. At one point, management asked the group to leave, which they eventually did.
In addition to higher pay and better working conditions, some employees, like Raymond Brava, who works at a Richmond Wal-Mart, said he also doesn't like the fact that he is scheduled to work during Thanksgiving. His shift is scheduled to begin Thursday at 11 p.m., but he plans to walk out.
"This is the only way we can get Walmart to listen. This is the biggest shopping day of the year - Black Friday - and if we can get customers to support us Walmart will listen and improve working conditions. It just shows they're putting profits above the life of their associates. I think it's unacceptable. Thanksgiving you know it's a time to spend with our families."
To counter the protests mirrored elsewhere throughout the country, a Wal-Mart spokesperson sent out this message:
"We are preparing to have a great Black Friday across all of 4,000 locations in the U.S and we don’t think these actions by the UFCW will have any impact on our Black Friday plans whatsoever. Our stores will be operating normally on Black Friday and our customers will see nothing unusual when they shop. These so called protests involve a handful or associates at a handful of stores. In fact most of the protesters don’t even work for Walmart. They are union organizers and union members. We are laser focused on serving customers on Black Friday and we are preparing to have our best Black Friday ever.''
Additionally, Wal-Mart said in its statement said that its 1.3 million "associates" working over the holiday weekend are "excited" about Black Friday. Wal-Mart pointed out that most protesters are not Wal-Mart employees but union workers protesting at "made-for TV events."
"We do not expect these actions by a very small minority of our associates at a handful of stores to have any impact on our stores or our customers shopping experience on Black Friday. This is the Super Bowl for retailers and we're ready," according to the Wal-Mart statement.
Wal-Mart, however, was painting a much rosier picture of working conditions than the protesters in Oakland. Some of the protesters and supporters included state Assembly Member Sandre Swanson, James Hopkins, pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, Parent Voices, and Child Care Providers United.
Wal-Mart critics noted the company is the second-biggest employer of parents receiving child care state vouchers in Alameda County, and is a company that doesn’t provide affordable benefits, forcing the parents who work for them to turn to child care subsidies.
Wal-Mart reported in $15 billion in profits in 2011, the protesters stated, but only pays employees an average of only $8.81 an hour. In addition, the Los Angeles Times reported that OUR Walmart, an advocacy group of Wal-Mart employees, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the company of illegally making threats to stop its workers from protesting on Friday.
Wal-Mart countered with its own talking points:
- The company has 250,000 "associates" who have worked for the company for more than 10 years.
- The company promoted 165,000 hourly "associates" last year, and the Wal-Mart turnover rate of 37 percent is lower than the retail industry average of 44 percent.
At least one Bay Area shopper was taking the side of the protesters.
Antwon McCoy was at the Oakland Wal-Mart as protesters marched through. He finished buying a shopping cart filled with baby supplies for his kids. But he said he won't be coming back anytime soon.
"It's not that important just to get a deal," McCoy said. "If I was working here I'd want somebody to support me as well."