Organizers of a post-Thanksgiving protest on behalf of workers at a Walmart in downtown Washington, D.C. identified only one of the participants as actually working at that store.
The admission underscores the fact that few Walmart workers have been involved in the protests.
"Thirty striking workers from Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland took part in today’s protest, and Melinda Gaino, one of the striking workers, works at the H Street Store," said Julie Anderson, a spokeswoman for the 1.3 million member United Food and Commercial Workers union, which organized the event.
Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg claimed the number was far smaller. "We recognized about 5 to 10 who are current associates from around the metro area," he said.
UFCW had previously said that 50 Walmart employees from the D.C. metropolitan area, including Virginia and Maryland, would take part in Friday's event. There are 22 Walmarts in a 25-mile radius of the H Street store, meaning that the protest attracted at most about one and a half employees per store in the region. A majority of the protesters were community leaders and liberal activists not affiliated with Walmart.
Nonetheless, UFCW characterized the event in a press release as including "hundreds of Walmart workers and community allies" who "joined the biggest strikes in company history."
The D.C. protest was part of a national effort to disrupt the non-union retail giant on "Black Friday," one of the busiest shopping days of the year. The union has long sought to organize the retailer's estimated 1.3 million employees. Walmart has aggressively resisted all efforts.
The events were organized through OUR Walmart, a nonprofit organization backed by UFCW that claims to represent Walmart workers upset by the company's practices. The organization said there would be 160 events nationally, though it directed reporters only to the ten largest.
"I'm on strike today because I don't believe that anyone who speaks up for positive changes at Walmart should be punished," said Gaino in a statement. "I've worked at this store since it opened, and even though I'm considered full-time and work 40 hours a week, I still rely on government assistance to get by. Walmart needs to respect our right to speak out for a better life."
Walmart annual wages range between $16,000-$23,000 for cashiers, $16,000-27,000 for sales associates, $16,000-28,000 for shelf stockers and $18,000-$31,000 for pharmacists, according to payscale.com, making them comparable to other retailers like Target. By comparison, the annual salary for a 40 hour-week at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is $15,080. Anything below $11,670 is defined as poverty by the federal government, though that level rises with every dependent claimed by the worker.
Few other employees at the D.C. location appeared to share Gaino's opinion. "I haven't heard of anyone joining the protest," said one shelf-stocker.
Another worker, busy scrubbing anti-Walmart slogans scrawled in chalk on the sidewalk in front of the store by protesters, shook his head. "They say we are just getting $9.50 an hour (DC's current minimum wage), but that's not so," the employee said.
There did not seem to be much of a groundswell at other metro area stores either. A worker at a Lanham, Md., store that been the site of a 2012 OUR Walmart protest said, "I wouldn't do that. I love my job." She called the D.C. protest "a mess," adding that she wouldn't want to see the store shut down on Black Friday because so many of their local customers depend on it.
Other workers were simply weary. An Easton, Md., Walmart employee said she had headaches as a result of being at the store until closing at 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, then coming back in at 5 a.m. on Friday. She wasn't getting overtime either. But she wasn't about to join a protest.
"No, I want to keep my job," she said.