Walmart workers were protesting in the Puget Sound region and around the country Thursday, prompting KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson to invite a few on the show to find out why.
Dori first spoke to Tom Geiger, a representative for UFCW 21, a group supporting the Walmart workers in their demonstration, about what they are trying to get out of the protest.
“Walmart workers are again standing up, primarily for a better workplace. That does include better wages. It includes better hours, health care, safety conditions,” said Geiger. “It’s also focused on a strong voice in the workplace, and that Walmart should not retaliate against workers when they raise their voice.”
The demonstrations Thursday were part of a larger movement called OUR Walmart, which stands for Organization United for Respect at Walmart, Geiger said.
“This is clearly a step toward trying to get Walmart to be a union shop,” said Dori. “But Walmart has been very clear since its inception, it doesn’t want to be a union shop.”
Geiger said this isn’t about getting Walmart workers into a union.
“Workers aren’t requesting a union right now, and we aren’t advocating for that either,” said Geiger. “We are just looking for workers across the country, whether they’re union or not union, to be able to be Americans, and have a voice, and be able to raise concerns about the things that are taking place in the workplace without being shut down and intimidated by their managers.”
But Dori pointed out UFCW 21 is a union. “Why is your union pushing for this if there aren’t unionization objectives?”
“Because we believe that when we’re all better off, we’re all better off,” said Geiger. “When we push for paid sick days in Seattle, and 5,000 of our members got paid sick days in Seattle, and 150,000 workers that were not our members got paid sick days in Seattle. We thought that was a good thing. It didn’t matter that the vast majority, 90 percent of the workers that got a better life for their families, were not UFCW members.”
Edie, a Walmart employee who’s been working there for 15 years, told Dori she was out protesting for more respect for Walmart workers.
“We want the future generations not to have to be overstressed like we are, forced to do several jobs at once, and pushed that if you don’t get it done, you get in trouble.”
But performing in multiple tasks and roles just seems to be a condition of being employed in today’s job market, said Dori, adding he tells every young person that versatility is a big key to success.
“If you can do everything and you’re willing to do everything, that’s the safest way to be in a real tough economy,” said Dori.
Edie said she’s willing, but describes some situations where she finds it hard to meet their expectations.
“I’m in electronics and I have to go do orders from online and what not, and I’m not in the department when I should be, and they’re not happy with you, and you go ‘hey I’m doing what you asked me to do,'” said Edie.
“So why keep working there?” said Dori. “Why don’t you take your talents somewhere else, if you’re not happy with the company you’re working for?”
“At 63, there’s nobody that really wants to hire me out on the peninsula because I can’t do outside work. I can’t do ladders and what not. There are some limits,” said Edie.
Larry, another Walmart worker, who’s worked there for 18 years and is participating in the Thursday protest, told Dori he too thinks it would be hard for him to find employment elsewhere.
“I’ve got health problems, the combination of age and health problems probably would eliminate any job opportunities for me,” said Larry.
“But despite the age and the health problems, Walmart continues to employ you. That sounds like something is positive on their side,” said Dori.
Despite the fact that Walmart has offered Larry and Edie employment for many years, and they are both paid higher than the $13 an hour Walmart employees are asking for – Larry is paid $18 and Edie is paid $13.35 – they are out protesting.
“Is there a danger in demonizing the company that has provided you with a livelihood?” Dori asked Edie.
“No, I don’t see any danger to that. What we’re hoping to do is we’re also backing the fast-food workers and everybody else that is in the same general boat we are,” said Edie. “Why can’t we all stand up together and say ‘hey, the labor movement started this 50 plus years ago, we need to continue it to get it better.'”
When Dori asked if Edie wants to see Walmart workers unionize, Edie responded, “No, not necessarily.”
“I don’t have to go there,” said Edie, “but I’m not afraid to go there. A lot of people are afraid to go there.”