Walmart protesters press for better pay

November 29, 2013

(WBEZ/Natalie Moore)
Protesters demand higher wages at the Walmart on North Broadway.

Chicagoans joined in the thousands of planned national protests against Walmart on Black Friday to demand higher wages from the big-box retail chain.

Dozens of protesters rallied outside of the Walmart on North Broadway in the Lakeview neighborhood. Some stood in the middle of the street, locked in arms, blocking traffic.

Myron Byrd said he’s a full time associate at the store and earns $16,000 a year. He said after expenses, he’s left with $20 in his pocket.

“I’m standing out here to make sure we’re going to get justice, make sure we don’t get bamboozled, and make sure we’re going to have a living wage before it’s all over with,” Byrd said.

OUR Walmart is the group behind the Black Friday protests that’ve been taking place from coast to coast. Organizers are looking for a minimum $25,000 yearly salary for employees. The federal poverty level for a family of four in the U.S. is $23,550.

Activists have long criticized the nation’s largest retailers for low wages and labor practices. Recently, a Cleveland Walmart came under fire for holding a holiday food drive for its employees. And Walmart’s CEO Bill Simon has said more than half its hourly employees make less than $25,000 annually.

Walmart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said only a few store associates are participating in the Black Friday nationwide protests, and that the average hourly wage is $12.81.

“We’re proud of the unparalleled opportunities we can provide associates at Walmart,” Buchanan said. 

Richard Wilson, a part-time associate at the North Broadway store, said it’s important for employees to stand together.

“My co-workers are making a courageous stand right in the middle of the street…and also to end illegal retaliation Walmart uses against it workers and and well as respect on the job, dignity,” Wilson said.

Earlier this month the National Labor Relations Board investigated charges alleging that Walmart violated the rights of its employees as a result of employee protests. The Office of the General Counsel found Walmart stores unlawfully threatened or terminated employees if they engaged in strikes and protests.

The NLRB also said Walmart stores in Illinois and Texas “did not interfere with their employees’ right to strike” by telling large groups of non-employee protesters to move from Walmart’s property to public property.

is a WBEZ reporter. You can follow her on Twitter nmoore@wbez.org

 

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