Wal-Mart Protests Send A Message But Fail To Deter Crowds
By BRIAN DOWLING
November 23, 2012
HARTFORD — Amid the flurry of shopping on Friday, another type of storm developed outside Wal-Mart locations throughout the country in the form of protests demanding that employees be given the chance to unionize.
"This is a tidal wave, and Wal-Mart is in the way," said Joshua Blanchfield, organizer of a demonstration at the company's Flatbush Avenue store. "These actions are happening all over the country."
At least 50 protesters spent a few hours at the Hartford store handing out leaflets to shoppers while marching and chanting. One song, to the tune of a Christmas carol, began, "Deck the halls with health insurance," noting how many Wal-Mart employees are unable to get health benefits.
The main issue, protesters said, is how Wal-Mart employees are kept from unionizing through coercion and intimidation by store managers. Groups held similar protests in Connecticut at Wal-Mart stores on Newtown Road in Danbury, Boston Post Road in Milford and Connecticut Avenue in Norwalk.
Blanchfield, a Hartford public school teacher, said that "wages and working conditions need to improve" for Wal-Mart employees and that forming a union is the first step in that process.
In Hartford, employees are told during orientation that they cannot participate in protests, according to one store employee, who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
A store manager also declined to comment on the protest.
The protests, however, didn't seem to deter crowds. Wal-Mart reported its most successful Black Friday event ever, having served nearly 22 million customers on Thursday and selling more than 1.3 million televisions, 1.3 million dolls and 250,000 bicycles, according to a company press release.
The Hartford protest received support from groups including the Service Employees International Union District 1199, the American Federation of Teachers, Occupy Hartford and city residents.
Jeff Welsh, who works for the service union, said that he came out for the protest to support Wal-Mart workers because "when they try to negotiate a better deal through the only legal method they can — which is through a union contract — they get crushed."
The protest started at 11 a.m. with about three dozen people, marching and chanting just a few yards from the store's main entrance as police and shoppers looked on. After about an hour, officers moved the protest because it was blocking the entrance for shoppers, police said.
Police were out in force with at least seven cars and close to a dozen officers who, by the end of the protest about 1 p.m., were setting up wooden barricades around the protesters.
"I don't know if I'm pro-union or not, but I am pro-people," said Diane Hasz, an Occupy Hartford participant. "The intimidation that Wal-Mart has on their workers, in this kind of economy, it's unconscionable."
Similar protests occurred throughout the country during the holiday weekend. Wal-Mart workers in Miami, Dallas, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C., walked off the job, according to a press release from the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union.
Welsh, from the service union, said that they chose Black Friday for a number of reasons.
"If this is supposed to be 'come out and buy stuff in a spirit of giving,' where's their spirit of giving when people are actually starving and being kicked out of their homes because they won't pay a living wage despite the fact that they're hugely profitable?"
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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