The day before Thanksgiving, Gabe Teneyuque stayed after work at the Apple Valley Walmart store to hear his bosses make a generalized statement about how the store already had a union, and that there were no talks with workers right now. The statement indicated that workers’ strings were being pulled by the union and outside forces, Teneyuque said he and a couple of other workers will be walking on Black Friday in an action that is part of a national movement to pressure Walmart stores to treat workers better. “We are all about getting fair pay, less retaliation,” Teneyuque says.
Though Teneyuque does pay five dollars a month dues toward a UFCW group, he said Walmart doesn’t yet have a union. The funds that their group has collected will go toward workers who go on strike, so that they won’t lose holiday pay. Striking workers will also get a food card, he said, which “softens the blow a little bit.”
Teneyuque said the way holiday pay works at the store right now is not fair or right. Even if you work one day — either the day before Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving, or Black Friday, you won’t get full holiday pay unless you make all of the days of your shift during those three days. So though Teneyuque worked both the day before Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving day, he won’t get his holiday pay for those days because he intends to go on strike on Friday.
This isn’t the first action that Teneyuque has taken part in. He took a trip down to Benton, Arkansas in solidarity with Walmart workers there. That was at the beginning of October, when there was a meeting with Walmart stockholders. Workers from all over the United States protested in front of the main office.
Teneyuque has been working at Walmart for a little over a year. He’s hoping the action on Friday will bring some awareness to the general public. “I’m hoping that people take notice and see when all these Black Friday deals happen, there’s people like them working behind the scenes, when they are relaxing on Thanksgiving,” he said. “We’re your neighbors and daughters and sons. We’re there getting the stuff ready. We are working in difficult conditions, with pay that is right above the poverty level. I want them to take notice of this.”
On Friday morning at 8 o’clock, Teneyuque plans on making an announcement that he is going on strike, and leaving the store. The thought that he may be fired has crossed his mind. “I see how aggressive the home office is, how relentless — it reminds me of an animal that is scared and is backed into a corner. “
At the same time, he’s heartened by all of the people supporting him. On his lunch break, co-workers have come up to him and congratulated him. Some are afraid to speak out themselves, he said, but they tell him to keep up the good work. “I’m reaffirmed that it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
“It’s very inspiring,” he said. “You have those moments that kind of alter your perception. I’m the type of person — I like to make sure I make the right move. I feel good about myself every day that I help workers that are being badly treated and being retaliated against.”
On Friday, there will be a protest in front of the Walmart and Sears stores in St. Paul. Teneyuque will join a “handful” of other workers from other Walmart stores as well as member of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL — Center of Workers United in Struggle), calling for fair wages, fair working conditions, and a voice in the workplace, according to a CTUL spokesperson. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Union of Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) are also supporting the Black Friday actions.