September 6, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
Vally Stream, NY – Demonstrators on Long Island – some with kids in tow – were threatened with arrest on Thursday as they protested Walmart’s flagrant anti-worker policies nationwide. But the action – taken in conjunction with 15 U.S. cities – continued on despite the attempted crackdown. (Watch Video)
“[Walmart] doesn’t care about workers’ rights,” said Chris Blom, CWA Local 1104 business agent. “They only care about their bottom line. So, by keeping us away from their store, they can keep the customers coming in and keep making money. That’s what it comes down to for them.”
Chanting protesters, some playing musical instruments and carrying signs denouncing the international conglomerate, never got close to the Green Acres Mall outlet’s entrance at 77 Green acres Road before cops swooped in and immediately put the kibosh on their procession. As a result, the vocal protest was confined to a spot outside the parking lot.
Walmart reportedly raked in $16 billion in profit in 2012, but when chronically low-paid workers stand up and demand more than the poverty wages they are routinely met with various reprisals and dismissals.
In the last three months, for instance, critics say Walmart illegally disciplined some 80 workers, while actually firing 20 employees seen as fomenting challenges to the status quo.
“Our jobs should not be at risk when we speak out about improvements that would help our families and Walmart customers,” said former full-time Walmart employee Elaine Rozier. Rozier worked as a Walmart stock clerk for almost a decade in Miami, but says she was terminated after speaking out and becoming part of a workers’ rights group called OUR Walmart.
Despite the show of force, Rozier and her fellow supporters had many more allies in organized labor and grassroots community organizations.
Together, representatives from the National Association of Letter Carriers, Local 1500, Local 338, IBEW, the Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers and the Labor-Religion Coalition of NYS, all called on the biggest private employer in the world to stop trying to silence its workers and pay its full-time employees an annual salary of at least $25,000.
“We’re out here to let [Walmart] know that we’re tired of them being anchors around the necks of the American worker,” said Tom Rowland, RWDSU Local 1102 field director. “It’s time for Walmart to share a little bit of that profit with the people that make it all happen.”
In many states, Walmart leads the way in the number of workers, who despite having jobs, are nevertheless forced to supplement their incomes with public assistance monies.
Long Island Federation of Labor Executive Director Roger Clayman, blasted Walmart, saying the company is “lowering the standards of our communities and making all of us worse off because of their greed.”
“Let’s hear it for these workers at Walmart who have a lot of guts,” Clayman said. “They’re taking a lot of chances. They’re not protected by the law. They’re only protected by their own sense of justice. And that’s why we’re here to tell them that we’re standing behind you until this is done.”
Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said that this week’s workers’ actions against Walmart should be cheered.
“The burgeoning low-wage economy that mimics the Walmart model affects us all,” Owens said in a statement. “If we want to build a sustainable recovery and a strong economy in which people who work for a living can earn a living from work, jobs at Walmart, other big retail stores, fast food establishments and in home care, must pay more.”
Charlene Obernauer, rally organizer and executive director of Long Island Jobs with Justice, was equally defiant.
“American workers should not be forced into a battle with the country’s largest employer just to get a decent day’s pay for their work and to have their rights recognized,” Obernauer said.