Walmart Workers Walking Off the Job in Protest

Updated: 11/23/2012 7:37 AM By: Mark Albert

It's called Black Friday because the lucrative shopping day puts retailers in the black. But unions and even some of Walmart's own employees hope this year it gives the world's largest retailer a black eye, instead.

"What we want customers to do is when they come into Walmart," Bernie Hesse, a protest organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers union, explained, "is ask the manager: 'Why can't you give them better schedules? Why can't you pay them more?'"

Walmart workers are not unionized, but the UFCW wants to draw attention to holiday schedules, pay, and health benefits by organizing protests, rallies, and walkouts of Walmart employees during one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

And Hesse batted away suggestions from some that workers ultimately have a choice of whether they want the job.

"I think that's shameful to say that to workers," said Hesse in an interview at the Midway Walmart in St. Paul, site of Friday's 11am rally and protest. "To say, 'if you don't like it, you can move on,' - that's not what this country is built on."

Walmart employee Shontell Bishop, who worked Thursday at the Bloomington store and planned to report for her 4am Friday shift, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, "it's not as bad as everybody (is) making it seem."

When asked by a reporter if she minded working on Thanksgiving, Bishop responded: "I did at first, but I don't care anymore. I'd rather work and have a job."

Customers at the Bloomington store were split on whether employees should have to work the holiday.

"They should have a day off like everybody else, you know," said shopper Jose Bilchis from Chicago.

Bridget Qual from Alexandria said customers like her have to "shop and get the deals, I guess. That's what Black Friday is about."

A Walmart spokesperson, in a statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Thursday, said one million of its employees would be working over the holiday weekend and that they would not be deterred by "a very small minority of our associates" that planned to walk out Friday.

"These so called protests involve a handful or associates at a handful of stores. In fact most of the protesters don't even work for Walmart. They are union organizers and union members. We are laser focused on serving customers on Black Friday and we are preparing to have our best Black Friday ever," Kayla Whaling at Walmart Media Relations said.

This is Walmart's full statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS:

We are preparing to have a great Black Friday across all of 4,000 locations in the U.S and we don’t think these actions by the UFCW will have any impact on our Black Friday plans whatsoever. Our stores will be operating normally on Black Friday and our customers will see nothing unusual when they shop. These so called protests involve a handful or associates at a handful of stores. In fact most of the protesters don’t even work for Walmart. They are union organizers and union members. We are laser focused on serving customers on Black Friday and we are preparing to have our best Black Friday ever.

We have a great group of associates at Walmart, in fact more than one million associates will be working throughout the holiday weekend and they're excited about our Black Friday plans this year. We do not expect these actions by a very small minority of our associates at a handful of stores to have any impact on our stores or our customers shopping experience on Black Friday. This is the Super Bowl for retailers and we're ready. We've been working on our Black Friday plans for almost a year now and we're prepared to have a great event. We care about our associates and our associates care about providing a great customer experience on Black Friday. We're confident that's what our associates will deliver for customers this year at Walmart.

This year, Walmart will start its in-store specials at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, followed by its big electronics event at 10 p.m. and a third event at 5 a.m. on Friday, November 23. In addition to the great prices and broad assortment our customers have come to expect from Walmart during Black Friday, this year we are taking the historic step of guaranteeing quantities of some of the most sought after electronic items during our 10 p.m. event.

We spend a lot of time listening to our associates. We want everyone to have a positive and rewarding experience working at Walmart. But, we recognize that not everyone is going to find what they are looking for in their job – that’s true of any workplace. The reality is that there are only a handful of associates, at a handful of stores scattered across the country that are participating in these UFCW made for TV events. Most of the numbers of people the UFCW claims at their events aren't even Walmart workers. They are union representatives and other union members. The overwhelming majority of our 1.3 million associates are excited about Black Friday and are ready to serve our customers. In fact, many of our associates have urged us to do something about the UFCW's latest round of publicity stunts because they don't think it's right that a few associates that are being misled by the UFCW are being portrayed by the media as representative of what it's like to work at Walmart.

We have hard data that tells a completely different story than what the unions and a few associates may think. Consider these facts: We have 250,000 associates that have worked for the company for more than 10 years, we promoted 165,000 hourly associates last year, our turnover rate (37%) is lower than the retail industry average (44%), nearly 75% of our store management teams started out in hourly positions, and 20% of the people we hired last year were rehires--meaning they worked for Walmart, decided to leave and concluded they were getting a better deal at Walmart so they came back. The fact is, our pay and benefits plans are as good or better than our retail competitors, including those that are unionized. If they weren't, we wouldn't be able to hire people and staff our stores. Last year alone, we received 5 million job applications. We also survey our 1.3 million associates every year to gauge their job satisfaction and those numbers have been increasing over the past few years.

We appreciate our associates for everything they do to serve our customers during this busy shopping season and every day throughout the year. Walmart’s success is due to their hard work and dedication.