Black Friday at Walmart Is Going To Be Interesting

December 1st 2014

Black Friday has become the biggest shopping day of the year in the United States. So big in fact, that in recent years shoppers have learned to be wary of Black Friday sales, fearing lethal stampedes of overenthusiastic shoppers. This year, though, shoppers at 1600 Walmarts across the country might encounter something a bit different on Black Friday: worker protests.

Why are these workers protesting Walmart on what might be their employer’s most profitable day of the year?  Walmart is owned by the Walton family, the richest family in America.

The six richest members of the Walton family have more money than 42% of Americans combined – and according to Robert Reich, the former US Secretary of Labor, the Walton family collects enough money in Walmart dividends to buy an average American house every hour.

Yet while Walmart’s owners reel in profit, the majority of Walmart workers still make less than $25,000 a year. Workers like those in the video below testify that they struggle to pay for basic costs like their medical expense and transportation to work. As we recently pointed out, many Walmart workers rely on public assistance like food stamps, passing costs directly on to American taxpayers.

At an Oklahoma Walmart, an Associate recently snapped a photo of an in-store canned food drive—encouraging employees to collect food donations for their own struggling coworkers. In response to that sort of food drive, Walmart worker La’Randa Jackson wrote an open letter to Walmart heir Alice Walton. Jackson wrote, “Ms. Walton, my co-workers and I don’t want your food bins. We work hard and we don’t want your charity. We want you and your family to improve pay and hours for Walmart workers like me so that we can buy our own groceries.” (That letter, along with dozens of stories from workers struggling to put food on the table, appears on the Walmart Hunger Games tumblr.)

Walmart workers like La’Randa Jackson have been organizing for over two years in the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). Supported by the UFCW and community members in a group called Making Change at Walmart, OUR Walmart workers have demanded $15 per hour and access to full time work. They’ve already seen some victories—after an OUR Walmart petition, Walmart announced that Associates can now sign up for open shifts through online scheduling software. According to OUR Walmart, since this change, Meisha Bradley, a Walmart worker from Sacramento, “has been able to pick up an extra shift, which means she’ll finally get enough hours to pay her gas bill this month.”

But that scheduling change is only the beginning. Last week, Walmart workers in Los Angeles staged a sit-down strike, the first ever at a Walmart. The strike ended with 23 arrests and made national news, calling attention to the OUR Walmart demand of $15 per hour and full time work.

Walmart Strike

And now, they will be hitting Walmart on the busiest shopping day of the year. OUR Walmart just announced the 1600 locations where #walmartstrikers and their allies will be taking action this Black Friday—in 46 of 50 states.

So, what should you expect on Friday? First, you can check here to see if your local Walmart is one of the 1600 with a protest or demonstration planned for Black Friday. At some stores, community members will simply be delivering petitions to store managers; at others, workers and their allies will be protesting outside. You can also follow the actions taking place across the nation on social media with #walmartstrikers.

OUR Walmart is also calling for anyone who has ever worked at Walmart to sign a petition supporting their demands to Walmart’s management and owners.

As the country’s largest employer, Walmart has the ability to raise the standard of living for the 1.5 million Americans it employs, giving its Associates full-time work that allows them to pay their bills and support a family. Yet a $15 wage for Walmart workers could also drive up wages for working people all across the country: UC Berkeley researchers have shown that Walmart has a measurable effect on the average retail wages in a county whenever it opens a new store.

Currently, Walmart coming into a county drives average wages down. But what would it look like if America’s richest family shared just some of their company’s profits with their employees? If OUR Walmart wins its campaign, we may find out soon.