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PICO RIVERA, CA OCTOBER 4, 2012 - Walmart employees strike out side of a Walmart store in Pico Rivera, California on Thursday October 4, 2012. The employees accuse Walmart of unlawful retaliation against workers who speak out for change at the company. The workers present are members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), which is an Associate-led group working for change at Walmart. Members of the group say that when they have come forward to call on Walmart to address issues with scheduling, wages, benefits and above all else, respect in the work place, Walmart has reacted by retaliating against them. Photo by AURELIO JOSE BARRERA.
It's hard to get the big picture of dispersed, often independently organized Walmart strikes and protests. Walmart is claiming that basically nothing happened, nothing to see, move along, no workers were really involved, all this was the work of outside agitators. But while the number of strikers was smaller than the number of allies who came out to support them, it was clearly an unprecedented number of workers staying off the job on the busiest shopping day of the year. And it's worth remembering that there would have been more workers on strike if Walmart hadn't already fired some in retaliation for their earlier activism. Here are some snapshots:
  • Josh Eidelson updated throughout the day and spoke to strikers in several states.
    Paramount, California striker Maria Elena Jefferson told The Nation this afternoon’s mass rally was “Very emotional. Very big. We were hoping that there would be a lot of people from the city supporting us, and we thought there would be supporters from other stores, and every time I looked around, it was bigger than bigger.” (Jefferson was interviewed in a mix of English and Spanish.) She said that the willingness of three workers to get arrested sent an important signal to management that workers are “willing to take the risk” and “what we’re doing is right.”

    According to Make Change at Walmart, while standing in the middle of the street this afternoon, one of the three arrested workers, Charlene Fletcher, said, “We are serious about improving our jobs and ending retaliation at Walmart. No matter how hard we work for Walmart, my husband and I can’t catch up on our bills. But when our co-workers speak out about problems like these, Walmart turns their schedules upside down, cuts their hours and even fires people.”

  • Much credit to Rep. George Miller, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and Labor Committee, and Rep.-elect Alan Grayson for showing up to support Walmart strikers.
  • For more Creative Commons-licensed pictures of Walmart strikers and supporters, check out Document the Strike.
  • Coverage from the New York Times, Marketplace, CBS Baltimore.

Remember that while Walmart is the target of these protests, and is, as the largest employer, the one that exerts the most influence on the U.S. retail industry, it's far from the only massive employer forcing its workers to come in on Thanksgiving day or the very early hours of Friday, and far from the only one keeping its workers poor and desperate for more hours of work.

A fair day's wage

  • With the announcement that mediation between Hostess and its union workers has failed and the company will indeed liquidate, this firsthand account of the decline of a great American bakery is worth a read.
  • US Airways flight attendants voted to authorize a strike, though that doesn't mean it will necessarily come to that.
  • In Germany, T-Mobile's parent company is a union employer. In the United States, this is the kind of treatment call center workers are subjected to:
    Their customer-handling time was not only reduced by a third, but, at the same time, the sales targets for cell phones and phone contracts were increased enormously.

    Whoever is not able to reach these high expectations is faced with disciplinary measured, harassment, and threatened with termination or other professional consequences, workers explain in the interviews. If all that is not bad enough, workers are even being publicly shamed. For example, call center employees in Chattanooga had to wear a dunce cap for hours to demonstrate their alleged failure when they were not able to meet their numbers.

    A 41 year old employee, who suffered under this measure several times, reports that the dunce cap was moved from desk to desk until it ended up at her desk. Never in her life, she says, did she feel so belittled and ridiculed.

  • Some people we really need to work on Thanksgiving and other holidays—public safety workers and the like. Retail, we don't. But retail is stealing Thanksgiving.
  • We need to move to clean energy, but we need to do it without leaving workers in coal and other dirty energy industries behind. Michelle Chen looks at coal communities at the pivot of dirty industries and a new energy future.

The War on Education

  • A few examples of charter school corruption. Not that it's hard to find more.
  • Jeb Bush and Arne Duncan, together again:
    There’s no real surprise in the Jeb and Arne show. Duncan has spoken at earlier Bush summits. Obama himself stood on a stage with Bush — the architect of Florida’s damaging corporate-style education reforms, which have become a model around the country — and called him “a champion of education reform.” This while Wisconsin teachers were protesting for their collective bargaining rights last year. And I wrote a few days ago that Bush’s summit had also booked as a keynote speaker John Podesta, founder and chairman of the Center for American Progress, who was president Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and and co-chair of Obama’s 2008 presidential transition team.

State and local government

  • Florida Gov. Rick Scott is really leading the privatization charge. Thanks to privatization of prison health care, nearly 2,000 state workers are losing their jobs right before Thanksgiving:
    The Department of Corrections signed a $230 million contract with Corizon Healthcare of Nashville to provide all health care in central and north Florida prisons and is negotiating contract terms with Wexford Health Sources of Pittsburgh to take over health care in nine South Florida prisons for $48 million a year.

    In the dismissal letters, prison officials emphasize that dismissed workers will get first consideration for new jobs at one of the two for-profit vendors, though with fewer benefits. The workers also expect to pay more out of their pockets for their own health insurance.

    Many make less than $35,000 a year, have not had a raise in six years and live in economically distressed areas home to many state prisons, including Bradford, Dixie, Levy, Suwannee and Union counties.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 10:55 AM PST.

Also republished by Retail and Workplace Pragmatists - Members and Editors and Daily Kos.

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