Wal-Mart claimed today that the much-hyped Black Friday protests at the non-union retail giant fizzled out, with only 50 associates – their term for employees – taking part. The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which organized the protests, disputed that figure though. It said “hundreds and hundreds” joined in at events across the country. The Washington Examiner could not find an independent estimate for the protests.

Even assuming the UFCW figure is correct, that is pretty small given that Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest employer, with 1.4 million people working at its stores. Wal-Mart also claimed at least 10 million transactions since its stores opened late Thursday, which would make 2012 its best Black Friday ever.

The UFCW, whose members mainly work for Wal-Mart’s competitors, has long battled the retail giant. It backed it a now-defunct non-profit group called Wake-Up Walmart, which attacked the retailer. More recently, it has backed groups called OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart.

Last week, Wal-Mart filed an unfair practices claim against UFCW with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming the group’s protests were disrupting its business. Labor law prevents unions from picketing for more that 30 days without filing a petition to represent its members.

UFCW had hoped that protests and staff walk-outs on Black Friday would paralyze the retailer and draw media attention. It claimed to have events in 46 states including Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, Wisconsin, Chicago, and Washington DC. Dan Schlademan, director of Making Change at Walmart, told the website Raw Story “hundreds and hundreds” of workers took part. On Twitter, the company posted clips and video from various events.

In a statement, Wal-Mart responded:

“Only 26 protests occurred at stores last night and many of them did not include any Walmart associates.” In addition, the company did not experience the walk-offs that were promised by the UFCW. “We estimate that less than 50 associates participated in the protest nationwide. In fact, this year, roughly the same number of associates missed their scheduled shift as last year,” [CEO Bill] Simon said.

The press release then pointed to some of the reasons people may have been disinclined to walk off.

Walmart associates receive a 10 percent discount on general merchandise bought at Walmart stores all year long. Earlier this holiday season, the company rewarded associates with a special holiday discount of 10 percent off most food items from November 9 to January 1 to help make the holidays for its associates and their families even more special.

Also, to recognize those associates who helped serve customers during its Black Friday events, the company is providing an additional 10 percent discount on an entire basket of goods. Eligible associates who helped execute Walmart’s Black Friday events will also receive holiday pay.

On Twitter, Wal-Mart said: “The number of protests being reported by the UFCW are grossly exaggerated & prove that this group doesn’t speak for our 1.3M Walmart assocs.”

UPDATE: The Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry claimed in a press release emailed to reporters that “thousands” of Wal-Mart employees had walked off the job today. In the statement, which is not currently online, she said:

Today’s protests at Walmart stores across the country are a reminder of the enormous power of working people uniting to demand a better future with a living wage, affordable healthcare and respect on the job.  From this day on, ‘Black Friday’ should be remembered as a pivotal day for working people at Walmart and everywhere.

The press release cited no source for the figure, though and the Examiner is unaware of any media outlet reporting that. The Associated Press, for example, did not give an estimate. More typical was this story from CBS which indicates that few of the protesters actually worked at the stores:

The size and enthusiasm of the protests varied from store to store. None of those protesting at a Walmart in South Philadelphia actually worked there. CBS Philadelphia affiliate KYW-TV spoke to one worker who didn’t agree with what was going on outside. “Everything they’re saying is wrong, wrong, absolutely wrong,” the employee said. “They give us benefits, they give us extras, they give us parties, we get bonuses, this is all wrong.”

At a Walmart in Northeast Philadelphia, however, at least two of the protesters were employees. “There’s not enough staffing in the stores, we don’t get enough hours,” one man told KYW-TV.