Walmart employees’ low wages make it difficult for them to meet ends meet, and many go hungry or require assistance from local programs and food banks, according to OUR Walmart - a worker-led organization focused on pressuring the world’s largest retailer to pay its workers $15 an hour and extend full-time employment. To bring the issue to the attention of the Walton family leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, OUR Walmart has launched a “Fast for 15” initiative.
Walmart is the largest and most profitable employer in the U.S., as well as the largest grocery supplier, yet OUR Walmart contends that many of its employees will struggle to put food on the table this Thanksgiving. So in the 15 days leading up to Black Friday, the organization has announced that over 1,000 people – including hundreds of Walmart employees and supporters - will fast and host protest events across the country.
“This has been an interesting year for us,” said Andrea Dehlendorf, co-executive director of OUR Walmart. “On the one hand, Walmart made a huge step forward in responding to what OUR Walmart and Walmart associates and supporters have been calling for by raising pay to what will be $10 an hour in February, but we know that without full-time hours and without getting $15 an hour, it is not fundamentally dealing with the fact that workers do not have enough money to make ends meet and feed themselves and their families. So that’s really what we’re focusing on now.”
From November 13th through Black Friday on the 27th, over 100 Walmart associates will be fasting in addition to over 1,000 others nationwide joining in solidarity. There are various levels of commitment among them; some will do a liquid fast for the full 15 days, some will do 24 hours, and others will give up certain foods for various lengths of time.
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Dehlendorf explained why there are various commitments by saying, “We are choosing a fast that is focused on a core group doing a liquid fast, which is not realistic if somebody is going to work every day for 40 hours a week lifting boxes at Walmart, but many of those people do want to participate in the fast, so will be fasting on their days off or will be finding another way to participate in this action.”
The events will begin at 9am on Monday, November 16. A core group of 15 Walmart associates will be publicly fasting outside of Walmart heiress Alice Walton’s home in New York City from November 16-20. On November 24th, another group of fasters will organize outside of Walmart chairman Gregory Penner’s home in Aperton, California. Another event may take place outside of S. Robson Walton’s home in Paradise Valley, Arizona. For details, supporters can visit http://protests.blackfriday/.
“While shoppers get ready to cook their Thanksgiving feasts and take advantage of Black Friday deals, Walmart is still putting profits over their own workers who are unable to buy basic groceries because of low wages and reduced hours,” said Tyfani Faulkner, a former Walmart worker in Sacramento who led the planning for Fast for 15. “That’s why we’re bringing our fight to Walton estates around the country so that they can see the corporate greed that keeps our dinner tables empty.”
Walmart associates are also taking action through a petition for a 10 percent employee discount on food items to help employees afford lunches at work. Over 13,000 staff have signed it already, and others will be able to sign through Black Friday.
The landscape for employees of large retailers in the U.S. has begun to improve, slowly, in the past year: IKEA announced its average minimum wage here would increase to $10.76 per hour, but it would fluctuate based on local living wages; and Target quietly committed to $9.00 per hour minimum pay for its employees after petitions challenged the company to “meet or beat” the $10 set by Walmart.
Some food and beverage chains here have added industry-leading employee benefits when universal wage increases weren’t feasible: Chipotle Mexican Grill added sick pay and paid vacation days, and expanded its full-tuition reimbursement program to all hourly employees; while Starbucks employees who work an average of 20 hours/week are now eligible for tuition reimbursements for more than 40 undergraduate degree programs offered online by Arizona State University.
After a mandatory living wage of £7.20 (US$10.94) an hour to workers age 25 and over beginning in April 2016 was announced by UK Chancellor George Osborne in the UK, IKEA and Starbucks went even further: In April, IKEA will begin paying all of its UK workers at least £7.85 (US$12.22) per hour and Starbucks will extend £7.20 per hour basic pay to all employees including apprentices and pay a London Premium for those working in the capital. Starbucks is also implementing a program to provide interest-free loans to help its employees pay rental deposits when they’re moving into a new home.