For the second year in a row, local Walmart employees protested the company's wages and policies in the weeks leading up to Black Friday.
The Nov. 12 protest, held at the Walmart on South 314th Street in Federal Way, was organized by OUR Walmart and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) chapter 21. Dozens of supporters and employees from local Walmart branches, including Federal Way, called for higher wages and blasted so-called illegal retaliation tactics by the company against those who "speak out."
The sign-waving employees and supporters marched through the parking lot, chanting battle cries such as "They say roll back, we say fight back" and "Whose store? Our store!" (SEE PHOTOS)
Store manager Josh Proctor informed the protesters that they were not allowed to demonstrate on private property.
However, the group pushed forward to the store's entrance. A pair of employees then issued a "coaching" to the manager. "Coaching" is the term Walmart applies to disciplinary write-ups for wayward employees, who are also known as associates. In Tuesday's coaching, an employee displayed an oversized form that listed the manager's infraction as "bullying/intimidation."
A picket rally then ensued in front of the store for about 30 minutes.
Mary Watkins, who has worked at the Federal Way Walmart for 14 years, said she was unfairly placed on a 12-week unpaid leave of absence earlier this month. Watkins had been ill the year before and had also filed an ethics complaint, she said. Upon returning to work in July, Watkins lost her full-time status and became a part-time cashier, she said.
Although she is still employed, Watkins said co-workers should unionize to maximize protection. Walmart employees need medical benefits and better pay, she said.
"We need to stand up so that Walmart can change," Watkins said. "I want to live better."
The protest dovetails with a national campaign aimed at getting Walmart, the world's largest retailer, to reform its policies. On Nov. 7, more than 50 people were arrested in Los Angeles during a protest against Walmart's wages.
Despite last year's protest on Black Friday, the traditional shopping day after Thanksgiving, Walmart reported its biggest Black Friday sales ever.
"It was proven last night – and again today – that the OUR Walmart group doesn’t speak for the 1.3 million Walmart associates," according to a Nov. 23, 2012, news release from the company. "We had our best Black Friday ever and OUR Walmart was unable to recruit more than a small number of associates to participate in these made for TV events. Press reports are now exposing what we have said all along – the large majority of protesters aren’t even Walmart workers."
According to the company's website, Walmart is ramping up for another big Black Friday in 2013. Associates who work Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday will be rewarded: "We’ll be recognizing their hard work with additional pay and free meals during their shifts. This year, as a special thanks, associates who work on Thanksgiving Day will receive a 25 percent discount on an entire purchase this holiday season.”
Nationwide, Walmart employs 1.3 million associates.