Wednesday afternoon, a group of community leaders supported the ongoing Walmart workers’ strike by passing out leaflets to customers and employees at the Walmart at 5885 Kingstowne Blvd.
Beth Pointer, an organizer for Making Change at Walmart, led a small group who entered the Kingstowne store to raise awareness of the retaliation some Walmart associates say they have received for speaking out about better wages and benefits.
“We’ve done this at eight stores today,” Pointer said. “This is happening at about 250 stores and there are just as many workers who have walked off their jobs.”
Although a dozen cities have been affected by the first-ever retail workers’ strike from Walmart, Northern Virginia area stores have yet to have associates walk off the job.
Members of the group, including Pointer and Mike Wilson of D.C Jobs with Justice, a supporter of Respect D.C., passed out leaflets both inside and outside the store. Store managers and associates asked them to leave several times and a Walmart associate stood at the main door taking the flyers away from employees and customers as they entered.
The group moved on when an officer from Fairfax County Police Department asked them to leave.
Hard Work for $9.20 an Hour
An associate with the Kingstowne Walmart, who asked for his name to be withheld out of fear of losing his job, said he and his coworkers in the truck and loading department work really hard for $9.20 an hour.
“They expect much more out of us. They’re paying us $9.20 an hour and anywhere in the country, that type of manual labor — which is approximately the equivalent of doing ten gym workouts a day — is worth $15 an hour, union or non-union,” he said. “So we’re really underpaid.”
The associate said they can’t speak about their grievances to management. "Nobody speaks to management about money because that’s a dead end.”
The associate also said he doesn’t think the strikes that are happening in different cities will help the current situation.
“Walmart has an infinite supply of people that need work,” he said. “Our country as a whole has a very high unemployment rate. They get a lot of people every day that need to work, and I’m sure the way they look at it is, ‘Feel lucky that you have a job at all. And if you don’t want your job, we can find somebody to fill it tomorrow.’”
Although reportedly no Walmart associates in Northern Virginia have walked off their jobs, workers in Laurel, MD, started striking Tuesday. Barbara Elliott and a few of her coworkers walked off their jobs at Walmart store #1985 on 3549 Russett Green East.
“We’re just speaking out for retaliation [for standing up for our rights] and health insurance we receive,” said Elliott. “We’re also speaking out about the hours that have been taken from us and the respect we need.”
Elliott said she and her coworkers need to have their questions answered and need living wages.
“We need to be able to afford to live, and take our families on trips and to be able to pay our rent and buy groceries without having to go to get food stamps or Medicaid to help us,” she said.
Black Friday Deadline for Action
The associates are giving Walmart until Black Friday to meet their demands, including an opportunity to discuss their concerns with management and the end of alleged retaliations for speaking out.
But David Tovar, the retailer's vice president of communications, told The Huffington Post Monday the unhappy strikers "aren't representative of our entire associate base." He also said Walmart has an "open door" policy and has a history of listening to the concerns of its associates.
On Wednesday, hundreds of Walmart associates took their concerns directly to CEO Mike Duke at Walmart’s global corporate headquarters in Bentonville, AR.
During an 11:30 a.m. teleconference on Wednesday, striking Walmart workers from Los Angeles and Dallas discussed their demands and plans.
Evelin Cruz, an associate for Walmart in Southern California, was one of the 70 Walmart employees who started the initial strike.
“The reason I became a part of OUR Walmart because I heard a lot of my associates thatt I work with are having their hours cut. I’ve had my staff cut in half, and it is overwhelming to serve the customers and try to get their jobs done as Walmart associates,” Cruz said.
As a result, strike organizers hope Walmart executives will be more open-minded about improving the associates’ wages and healthcare in the future.
“We will continue to come back if our demands aren’t met. We will be taking more action. It doesn’t stop here,” Harris said. “We don’t want to keep protesting and striking. It’s hard to go on strike and lose money, but at the same time it’s a small price to pay when you want to make change.”