Evelyn Cruz is a department manager at the Walmart in Pico Rivera, in Los Angeles, California. Having to work two shifts on Thanksgiving day – “it’s not like we had a choice,” she says, is just part of what she characterizes as tougher working conditions at the store where she has worked for nine years.
“Some associates’ hours have gone from 32 to 8 hours a week, and if they speak out, they’re not put on the schedule,” she says. “I used to run my department with 7 people, now it’s down to 3 – we are understaffed, and we are overworked and overwhelmed,” Cruz adds. The department manager also cites “going from healthcare that was semi-affordable to having healthcare that is completely unaffordable” as a reason for protesting.
Cruz says she will join massive protests in Walmart’s across the country to rally against America’s largest retailer on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Walmart workers are not unionized, but they have organized through the group Making Change at Walmart, which is backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). The group, consisting of Walmart employees, union employees, and other organizations, have already engaged in protests, but are vowing more next Friday.
Walmart workers are alleging unsafe and unfair working conditions in their stores. In Dallas, overnight maintenance worker Josue Mata says he has repeatedly asked to replace old and faulty equipment. “It is always a struggle; and apart from the equipment, we are working with fewer people,” he says.
In San Leandro, Texas, Marcella Lopez says she loves working for Walmart, “and I want to keep working and make it thrive.” But she will also be participating in the protests, saying there is retaliation if associates speak up about shifts or hours, as well as no attention to the robberies and crime targeted at Walmart employees and customers. “The store has been robbed a few times, and last year we even had a shooting on Black Friday,” she says, adding, “we were hoping there would be more security provided, or at least we could work out a way to come out of the store at night in groups, but that hasn’t happened,” Lopez says.
In addition to the stores, warehouse workers went on a two-day strike. Elizabeth Brennan, a spokesperson for Warehouse Workers United said out of their 85,000 workers, 15 percent of them work for Walmart, and about 80 percent of them are Latino. “It’s mostly a temporary workforce on a day to day basis, making minimum wage, and it’s kind of hard to believe some of the conditions,” says Brennan. Among the complaints are clean drinking water, ventilation, broken equipment and a high rate of injury as the workers move merchandise by hand out of a container at a very fast pace,” she says.
Walmart’s Director of National Media Relations, Kory Lundberg, tells NBC Latino says the number of people associated with the union-backed groups is small “and does not represent the views of the 1.3 million associates who work at Walmart.” Lundberg says that while the company recognizes not everyone will find what they want in every job, “we had more than 5 million job applications in 2011, and out of those, 20 percent of them were rehires,” he says.
“If you are going to get good people to work for you,” says Lundberg, “you have to make pay competitive, and we do,” adding “we have a quarter million people who have worked for Walmart for 10 years or more, and we have an open door policy where any associate can express questions or concerns.”
As per the warehouse workers’ concerns, Lundberg says Walmart “has spent the last several weeks developing protocols with independent auditors to inspect each of the dedicated third-party run facilities we utilize.”