In Los Angeles yesterday, Walmart workers participated in their boldest action to date: the first-ever sit-down strike at a Walmart store. They were protesting an end to retaliation when they speak out for $15 an hour, full-time hours and respect at work.
The striking workers entered the Crenshaw Walmart shortly before 10 a.m. PST and refused to move, holding a sit-in near cash registers and racks at the store. The workers chanted, “Stand Up, Live Better! Sit Down, Live Better!” before placing tape over their mouths signifying the company’s attempts to silence workers who are calling for better jobs.
After several hours, they left peacefully and headed to another Los Angeles-area store, where they held a rally. Then workers and their supporters took over the intersection near the Pico Rivera Walmart, refusing to leave until they were arrested and removed from the intersection. A total of 28 people were arrested, including clergy, community members and strikers.
Paramount Walmart worker Martha Sellers said:
I’m striking today for workers like Evelin, Victoria, Rosa, Maria Elena and Graciela who Walmart retaliated against for standing up for change. Walmart and the Waltons need to know that they can’t silence us all.
Sellers was referring to the owners of Walmart, the Walton family, the richest family in America who own nearly $150 billion in wealth while most Walmart workers make less than $25,000 a year. Kiana Howard, a mother and Walmart striker, said she took part in the sit-down “to protest Walmart’s illegal fear tactics and to send a message to management and the Waltons that they can’t continue to silence us and dismiss the growing calls for $15 an hour and full-time work.” She added:
Walmart and the Waltons are making billions of dollars from our work while paying most of us less than $25,000 a year. We know that Walmart and the Waltons can afford fair pay, and we know that we have the right to speak out about it without the company threatening the little that we do have.
Over the past year, Walmart workers have pressured Walmart to provide workplace accommodations for pregnant workers, to provide access to more hours and, most recently, to pledge to phase out its minimum wage jobs. However, when workers’ calls for change started to gain momentum, Walmart struck back. They retaliated against vocal workers standing up for better wages and worker conditions, according to the workers, including Rosa Valenzuela, 67, who was terminated just a month short of her 20-year anniversary with the company.
She said Walmart created excuses to discipline her, even citing an incident where she was said to have clocked out two minutes late. She said:
I worked for Walmart for nearly 20 years, and they fired me for speaking up for all of our rights. I was a stone in their shoe, so they got rid of me. I feel betrayed. I’m out here today so Walmart knows that we won’t be scared into silence. We’re going to keep standing up for our rights until they start to respect us.