Durham, N.C. — Walmart workers across the country were walking off the job on Black Friday to join protests demanding higher wages, cheaper benefits and better treatment from the retail giant.
At a Walmart in Durham, more than 100 protesters gathered in the parking lot outside the store, chanting slogans and passing out fliers to draw attention to their cause. They were not employees but shoppers and neighbors sympathetic to minimum-wage workers. Groups from Durham Mennonite Church, Triangle Jobs with Justice, Corporate Action Network and the Raging Nannies participated.
The nannies communicated their concern in song. "Walmart stores are ruining our town," they sang.
Others made the same message clear in a more serious tone.
"If people use this day to boycott Walmart and shop at other retailers who treat their employees fairly, we hope that will get through to the Walmart managers and owners who are profiting at the expense of their workers," said Caitlyn Thomson.
Police were keeping a watchful eye on the protesters after they were moved back from the store's property. The crowd chanted various slogans, including: "What's outrageous? Walmart wages."
“It’s the biggest shopping day of the year for retailers. I think it’s an optimum time to remind people that there are human faces and lives behind the check-out counter here, and that they are not getting a day off, unlike most of the shoppers here,” said Spencer Bradford, a pastor with Durham Mennonite Church. “Some of them didn’t even get a day off on Thanksgiving.”
Joining the trend of stores opening before the traditional Black Friday shopping rush, Walmart opened at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving. A company spokesperson said the retailer is responding to consumer demand and called the protests a union-backed publicity stunt.
In California, Walmart employee Greg Fletcher joined others who walked of the job. He said he’s worked at the store for six years and makes $10.70 an hour.
“Unfortunately, for my wife and two kids, we can’t afford the benefits package from Walmart,” he said. “If we bought it, we couldn’t afford a roof over our heads. So, it’s frustrating.”
The protesters’ demands include a minimum wage of $13 an hour.