Saturday, November 30, 2013

Union protestors stage Black Friday protest at Harrisburg Walmart

Walmart Protest VigilAllen Cunningham, a Harrisburg resident and member of the Harrisburg Region Central Labor Council, explains what brought him and other union representatives out to protest at the Walmart off Grayson Road in Harrisburg on Black Friday.

Black Friday shoppers flocking to the Walmart in Harrisburg were greeted with a pro-union rendition of "Lean On Me," Friday night led by Denise Fahie, a member of the Service Employees International Union Local 668.
WalmartProtest1.JPGService Employees International Union Local 668 members Denise Fahie (foreground, singing) and William Wilson, (rear) the chapter's chairman, protested on behalf of Walmart employees in front of the Harrisburg store on Black Friday.
"If you work for Walmart there may be things you need to borrow," Fahie and others belted out as the Swatara Township resident handed out fliers to passing shoppers. "For, when you aren't paid what you deserve, there will be sorrow."
Organized by Allen Cunningham, a community service committee member from the Harrisburg Region Central Labor Council, the gathering of area service union members and religious leaders held candles and some signs next to the busy entrance in an effort to drum up support from shoppers for Walmart employees, who they said are unfairly compensated by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
"We're here to support Walmart workers, to help them get a living wage for their families, to be able to get days off on the holidays without being fired like everyone else has," said SEIU Local 668 Chairman William Wilson. "They were open at 6 p.m. last night when people should be eating their Thanksgiving dinner. Their CEO needs to have respect for the workers who make them millions of dollars."
Among the list of demands expressed by the roughly 20 to 30 protestors was an annual salary of at least $25,000 for all U.S. associate employees of Walmart and affordeable healthcare offerings from the multinational retail corporation.
While SEIU Local 668 have tried to help employees of area stores to unionize in the past, efforts are hampered by the fear of many employees that they will be retaliated against by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Wilson said.
"Employees are scared they're going to get fired if they join a union, that's their main thing," Wilson said, adding that none of the 20 to 30 protestors at the vigil were employees at the store. "They don't want to lose their jobs."
Anticipating a series of protests that were carried out at Walmart stores across the country, the corporation issued a response letter on its website earlier Friday. In the statement, made by Vice President of Corporate Communications David Tovar, the corporation argues that it pays its employees fairly and offers the benefits many protestors are calling for.
"Walmart provides wages on the higher end of the retail average with full-time and part-time associates making, on average, close to $12.00 an hour," Tovar's statement reads. "The majority of our workforce is full-time, and our average full-time hourly pay is $12.81 an hour. We are also proud of the benefits we offer our associates, including affordable health care, performance-based bonuses, education benefits, and access to a 401K."
"Their CEO needs to have respect for the workers who make them millions of dollars," - SEIU Local 668 Chairman William Wilson.
But Cunningham and others were less convinced, disagreeing with Tovar's statement that the majority of Walmart employees were full-time and saying that the benefits offered by the corporation are not as affordable or comprehensive as the corporation says.
"Two-thirds to three-quarters of the workers at Walmart are just part-time workers, so, even if they're being paid twelve or more dollars an hour, it doesn't matter if you can't work full-time," Cunningham said. "Walmart keeps them part-time workers, too, because that means they don't have to offer them benefits of any significance." 

Regardless, for every shopper who took a flier from the protestors in the half an hour to 45 minutes they stood in front of the store Friday evening, still others passed through the doors, too eager to reap the benefits of Black Friday sales to notice.

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