California Walmart workers call for more hours, better pay

But Walmart says the two-day protest represents only a very small group of workers

In this file photo from 2012, an employee gathers carts in front of the Walmart store in Paramount, Calif. on Nov. 23, 2012
Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty Images

Organizers in California say some Walmart workers in the Los Angeles area went on strike Wednesday morning, calling for an end to what they say is "illegal retaliation against workers calling for better wages and full-time work."

The demonstrations are part of a two-day protest by Walmart workers who are also members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), a union of 1.3 million people employed primarily in grocery and retail stores, is also participating in the demonstrations.

Another rally is scheduled to take place Thursday in front of the Walmart in Los Angeles' Chinatown.  

Workers who belong to OUR Walmart are also seeking a minimum salary of $25,000 per year. Of its 1 million employees in the U.S., Walmart says that more than 475,000 earn more than $25,000 a year, meaning hundreds of thousands of others made less than that figure. 

Martha Sellers, an employee at the Walmart store in Paramount, Calif., said she has been a cashier for 10 years and can "barely make ends meet" despite describing herself as "self-supporting," with no husband or children. 

"They give you a 40 cent raise and cut 20 hours for the week. Where does that 40 cent raise go?" she said to Al Jazeera.

Sellers, who was a participant in Wednesday's protests, said that managers' hands are often tied in trying to address the concerns of workers and that Walmart as a corporate entity needed to "step up their game."

"It's not just about the wages, the hours as well. (They) need to provide affordable health care," Sellers said. "There's so many things wrong with Walmart."

Kory Lundberg, a spokesman for the retail giant, told Al Jazeera that Walmart offers better health care benefits than other corporations in the industry and that many employees sign up for health care plans that are offered for as little as $18 per pay period.

But Dan Hindman, who also works at the Paramount Walmart store, said that though he has health insurance, the copays and bills are so high that there is "no way in hell" that his current salary allows him to pay them off.

No work for a week

Organizers say Walmart has been retaliating against protesters. Hindman said that on one occasion after he participated in a demonstration, Walmart did not schedule him to work for a week.

The 29-year-old Hindman, who has a 2-month-old baby and a 4-year-old child, put it bluntly, saying that both the health care and the hours at Walmart "suck." 

But when asked about issues including wages and hours, Lundberg said that full-time Walmart employees average between 37 and 38 hours per week and that, on average, workers are "working more hours today than they were this time last year."

As for the anti-Walmart protests, which are a continuation of nationwide events across the country earlier this year, the company says the workers participating in the strikes as part of OUR Walmart represent a very small group. 

"You don't see a lot of associates joining and participating in these events," Lundberg said.

That, Walmart says, is due in part to its figure that 75 percent of store managers — who the company says make up to $170,000 a year — started out as hourly workers. The company also says it promotes 160,000 hourly associates every year.

"People can go as far as their hard work will take them," Lundberg said.  

But those statistics don't mean much for workers like Sellers and Hindman, for whom the goal is to get better health care and better wages. 

If that were to become the case, Hindman said there would be "better customer service" and the "associates would love their job."

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