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Worker group urges Black Friday boycott of Walmart

The Joliet-based Warehouse Workers for Justice shown here April 2011 vigil downtown Joliet  is urging shoppers boycott Walmart Black

The Joliet-based Warehouse Workers for Justice, shown here at a April 2011 vigil in downtown Joliet, is urging shoppers to boycott Walmart on Black Friday to send a message to the company about how it treats its employees. File photo | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 21, 2012 6:13AM



JOLIET — A local workers’ rights group wants shoppers to boycott Walmart on Black Friday to send a message to the company about how it treats its employees.

Joliet-based Warehouse Workers for Justice’s “Black Friday Action” includes a rally in front of the Walmart at 2424 W. Jefferson St. The group will gather first at 8 a.m. at Sacred Heart Church, 329 S. Ottawa St., and then head to the Walmart.

Walmart’s retail workers are having problems with “wages, hours, no promotions and no respect,” said WWJ community organizer Cindy Marble. The complaints are similar to ones that afflict warehouse workers, especially workers at warehouses that handle Walmart goods, Marble said.

Friday’s event also is designed to show support for Walmart employees who have been staging strikes around the country, she added.

Walmart spokesperson Kory Lundberg said, “only a handful of associates, at a handful of stores scattered across the country,” are participating in strikes.

Lundberg said in an email that Walmart has a low turnover rate, 250,000 employees have been working for the company for more than 10 years and 75 percent of the company’s managers started as hourly employees.

“The fact is, our pay and benefits plans are as good or better than our retail competitors, including those that are unionized,” Lundberg said. “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.”

Lundberg also said the company expected only a tiny percentage of Walmart employees to take part in any Black Friday strikes.

“Of course we respect the rights of our associates to express their views, but if they are scheduled to work, we expect them to show up and do their job. If they don’t, depending on the circumstances, there could be consequences.”

Marble said she understands some consumers think they need to shop at Walmart because of the chain’s low prices. But, she says, those low prices come at the expense of warehouse and retail workers. The group claims a high percentage of Walmart employees receive food stamps and government aid.

“So who’s really saving more and living better?” a WWJ flier asks.

Marble also took issue with the retail chain’s plans to open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, requiring Walmart’s employees to leave their families on the holiday.

Marble said many people support WWJ and are concerned about what is happening in the company’s warehouses, “And yet they still shop at Walmart,” she said. “My goal is to help make the connection.”

WWJ came to Joliet in 2009 to help improve working conditions for area warehouse workers. The Walmart warehouse in Elwood has come under continuing fire from the groacup, which has helped workers file numerous lawsuits for alleged wage thefts, unfair labor practices, unsafe working conditions and other infractions.

WWJ also has assisted with a three-week strike in the fall and a large rally that drew about 600 people to the warehouse site. The strike settled on Oct. 6 and workers were paid for the days of work they missed.

The turmoil is not over. Last week, warehouse workers filed more charges of unfair labor practices against four employers operating Walmart’s Elwood distribution center.

Walmart officials have been critical of WWJ and a similar group in California saying they are backed by unions that just want to beef up their memberships. But WWJ organizers say while they receive support from the United Electrical Workers, they are 95 percent funded by donations and foundations.

For more information on WWJ’s Black Friday event, go to www.warehouseworker.org.



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