Nearly 100 people braved piercing cold at eleven o’clock on the morning of Black Friday in front of the St. Paul Walmart store, protesting against the company’s labor practices. Members of CTUL, SEIU, UFCW and their supporters, as well members of the OUR Walmart organization, picketed on the sidewalk and held a rally calling for fair wages, fair working conditions, and a voice in the workplace.
“OUR Walmart’s the organization united for respect at Walmart,” said Michael Ahles, who works at the Sauk Centre Walmart. “It consists of former and current associates at Walmart. We’re trying to reason with Walmart that we need better wage, better hours, benefits, that some of the company policies need to change. But they are fighting back at us.” Though some people think OUR Walmart is a union, Ahles said it is not. “We are a nonprofit organization that is backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers.”
Ahles called in to work today to say that he would be going on strike. “No matter what company you work for, corporations are taking over everything,” Ahles said. “And Walmart’s the leader in that. And if we can change Walmart, we can change a whole lot of other things.”
Gabe Teneyuque, who works at the Apple Valley Walmart, also called in to work to say he would be striking. “I just want to see things get better,” Teneyuque said. “I want to see associates treated a little bit better, see a better living wage for everybody, because they work so hard and are paid so little.”
Bernie Hesse, from UFCW Local 1189, said that the local has been a partner with OUR Walmart as they build within the Walmart stores. While Hesse says that at some point it might be an option that OUR Walmart members join UFCW, right now, “they are just trying to get management to listen to them, to make work better and to get better pay.”
Macalester Professor Peter Rachleff was at the action on Friday, to support the workers. “This is a time when workers are being exploited and are fighting back, trying to make their lives more stable and secure in this difficult period in the global economy where inequality is growing so sharply,” he said. “Ironically, it’s at a time where our culture seems to be putting great stake in consumerism. We look at something like Occupy Sandy, and the way people take care of each other, we’re out here to say we all need to take care of each other.”