Walmart workers were scarce at the much-hyped Black Friday protests against the retailer's wages and employment policies. Even protesters who didn't work at the stores were hard to find.
An estimated 50 people showed up at a store in East Green Brush, N.Y., to protest the firing of Walmart employee Thomas Smith earlier this month. Thomas was allegedly let go for redeeming $2 worth of cans and bottles left behind in a shopping cart. Walmart said he was fired because Smith had failed to disclose his prior criminal history when he was hired, a claim Thomas disputed.
A group of about two dozen people delivered a petition to a Walmart store in downtown D.C. calling for higher wages, judging from photos of the event. According to a company spokesman, "one or two" store employees took part in the protest, although nobody at that location was involved. The event was over well before noon.
Reports of other protests were hard to find on newswires, and visits to other Washington-area stores showed no protest activity of any kind.
One of the main anti-Walmart groups, Making Change at Walmart, didn't mount any protests, instead saying that it had its supporters donate to food banks on behalf of Walmart workers.
"This Black Friday, the message we are broadcasting through our TV ads and food drives is that Walmart employees are struggling," said Jess Levin, communications director at the group. "They work for one of the richest companies in the country and so many of them have to rely on assistance from food banks and food stamps to avoid going hungry."
In previous years, Walmart protesters were able to at least mount a few events in a few cities to make the argument that there was a movement underway even if Walmart workers were scarce at those events, too.
This year, a schism in the anti-Walmart movement has made protesting even harder. One of the main anti-Walmart groups, OUR Walmart, was founded and financed by United Food and Commercial Workers, a union that represents workers at Walmart's rivals like Giant and Kroger's. UFCW also operates Making Change at Walmart.
UFCW had long sought to represent the more than one million workers at the non-union Walmart, but apparently grew frustrated with the lack of progress and fired the two main organizers for OUR Walmart earlier this year. The directors then formed a new, independent organization called OUR Walmart. UFCW has referred to that as a breakaway group and still maintains the original OUR Walmart website as well as the Making Change at Walmart group.
Walmart spokesmen have dismissed the activists groups, noting that while they claim to represent Walmart workers they have never been able to point to more than token support from actual employees.
In previous years, the activist groups have promised large protests at dozens of cities, only to have smaller numbers turn out for the events. For example, OUR Walmart promised more than 50 Walmart employees at a protest in front of at the D.C. Walmart last year, then on the day of the event said 30 participated. Walmart officials said between five and 10 employees took part.
The independent group announced earlier this month that its members would be holding fasts to protest Walmart's policies, but could not say if any Walmart workers would participate in those events. It was apparently the non-UFCW group that was at the D.C. Walmart Friday.
Under a policy instituted earlier year, Walmart pays its associates a minimum base salary of $9 an hour, which is set to increase to $10 next year, well above the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. According to the website glassdoor.com, which calculates company payscales, the current average hourly salary for a Walmart sales associate is $9.31, meaning they would get about $19,300 annually before taxes. The Department of Health and Human Services defines a poverty level wage for an individual as $11,770 annually and for a family of four as $24,250.