Former employees criticize Walmart
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 00:09
Former Walmart employees strongly criticized working conditions at the retail giant, comparing “working at Walmart to being unemployed” during a forum hosted last Thursday by the Brandeis Labor Coalition.
Coalition members organized the forum to raise awareness of working conditions at Walmart as well as how advocacy groups for workers’ rights are trying to change them.
Two former Walmart employees, now members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart discussed their experiences working at Walmart and their work to improve working conditions since leaving the company. Local representatives from Jobs With Justice’s Change Walmart, Change America campaign and national organizers from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union also spoke about their collaboration with OUR Walmart.
This event follows the June announcement of a $5 million grant from the Walmart Foundation to the Heller School for Social Policy and Management’s Center for Youth and Communities. The CYC will distribute the money in $800,000 grants to nonprofit and government-run agencies supporting at-risk youth in eight cities around the country. The money will go towards paying for young students’ summer jobs in these areas.
Focusing not only on informing students about the work of OUR Walmart, the speakers also tried to draw a connection for Brandeis students between the Walmart Foundation’s grant to the Heller School and the experience of working at Walmart. “The reason why we came today was because we wanted you to hear the other side of where that money really comes from,” explained James Razsa, an organizer for Campaign for Change at Walmart in Boston.
The group of former employees that make up OUR Walmart travel around the country, visiting Walmart stores and urging workers to join the organization’s network. Angela Williamson, a former Walmart employee who was fired for what an Unfair Labor Practices lawsuit found in 2012 to be “retaliation for speaking out against Walmart’s treatment of its employees,” now works with OUR Walmart. Walmart forbids its workers from unionizing, so OUR Walmart functions to “give a voice” to these workers, providing a framework for employees to “[take] ownership of their organization,” explained Williamson.
“I compare working at Walmart to being unemployed ... there’s really not a big difference,” said Williamson. During her time at Walmart, Williamson experienced inconsistent pay and hours, which, she noted, is not uncommon for Walmart employees: “even the full-time people are not getting 40 hour weeks ... some are, but it’s very few and far between.” In the course of her work with OUR Walmart, Williamson has found that, similar to what she experienced as a Walmart employee, many workers “can’t guarantee what their pay’s going to be to pay the bills [or] to put food on the table.”
In order to work towards creating a different, more reliable environment for Walmart workers throughout the company, OUR Walmart collaborates in the Boston area and around the country with Jobs With Justice and UFCW. Jobs With Justice began its Change Walmart, Change America campaign about 10 years ago.
According to Rasza, for the Campaign for Change at Walmart and OUR Walmart’s network of Walmart employees and former employees, there is a distinct goal. “It’s not about hating Walmart,” he said, “what it’s about is trying to change Walmart.”
OUR Walmart’s advocacy and Jobs With Justice’s Change Walmart, Change America campaign focus on changing what Angela Williamson experienced, and many workers continue to experience, which Rasza defines as a fundamental issue: that many jobs at Walmart are “not creating the ladder ... to a better life” for workers.
OUR Walmart’s major work in 2012 has centered on a campaign called Walmart at 50, celebrating Walmart’s 50th year in business by organizing National Days of Action to garner new members and continuing to organize and advocate for workers’ rights.
Encouraging Brandeis students to attend OUR Walmart and Jobs With Justice’s events in the Boston area, Rasza said that although the Walmart Foundation’s grant to the Heller School’s CYC will go to charitable community organizations, it’s important that Brandeis students “don’t let Walmart off the hook.”
David Duhalde-Wine, a Brandeis graduate student in the masters of public policy program and a member of the Brandeis Labor Coalition, said in an interview with the Justice, “Students at Brandeis, a school that’s focused on social justice and founded on those principles, should hear the other side of where our money’s coming from.”
The message for the Brandeis community, Duhalde-Wine said, is that Brandeis students, through groups like the Labor Coalition, should take action “to [raise] awareness of the struggles and the braveness of the Walmart workers, and [raise] awareness about their working conditions and [how they are] just trying to use their democratic rights to improve their own lives ... for that reason we should learn more about it.”