Walmart has reported its best Black Friday ever, despite demonstrations protesting corporate greed and supporting worker rights at many of its stores across the country, including two stores and the Walmart-owned Sam’s Club in Santa Fe.
While some Walmart workers joined the demonstrations elsewhere, there were no reports of any store employees participating in Santa Fe or any of the other five New Mexico cities where protests were held.
Many of the demonstrations nationwide were reported to be organized by union-backed OUR Walmart, though groups associated with the Occupy Movement were behind protests in New Mexico.
Media reports say OUR Walmart estimated that thousands of supporters rallied for Black Friday protests in 100 U.S. cities from Landover Hills, Md., to Oakland, Calif.
In a statement released Friday morning, Walmart said the number of demonstrations being reported was grossly exaggerated.
Walmart, the nation’s larger retailer, with about 4,000 locations in the U.S., said it was aware of only a few dozen protests at its stores on Friday and only a small number of Walmart employees participated.
“It was proven last night – and again today – that the OUR Walmart group doesn’t speak for the 1.3 million Walmart associates,” Walmart’s Vice President for Corporate Communications David Tovar said Friday in a brief statement. “We had our best Black Friday ever and OUR Walmart was unable to recruit more than a small number of associates to participate in these made for TV events. Press reports are now exposing what we have said all along – the large majority of protesters aren’t even Walmart workers.”
In Santa Fe, 38 people – none of them known to be Walmart employees – turned out for a demonstration at Walmart store No. 829 on Cerrillos Road at 10 a.m. Friday. The numbers dwindled with each stop of the caravan, which moved to Sam’s Club at 11 a.m. and the Walmart Supercenter at noon.
The New Mexico chapter of Interfaith Worker Justice, a national organization that advocates for workers’ rights, organized the demonstrations in Santa Fe.
“Interfaith Worker Justice is looking at how to reform laws that protect workers from being exploited by corporations like Walmart,” said the Rev. Holly Beaumont, the local chapter’s organizing director. “The goal of these demonstrations is to show a presence, both to the public and Walmart Corporation. This is just the beginning of standing with Walmart workers in the days, months and perhaps even years to come.”
Demonstrators displayed signs carrying such messages as “People Over Profits,” “Justice 4 All,” and “I Support the Walmart Strikers,” and Beaumont led prayer vigils at each of the three stops in Santa Fe. People took turns reading quotes from Scripture and human rights activists, such as Martin Luther King Jr.
At each stop the group delivered a letter to the store manager. In part, the letter read, “This year, as you and your company mark your 50th anniversary and celebrate the values of ‘hard work,’ entrepreneurship,’ and ‘the American dream,” we remember and pray for the 2.2 million Walmart workers across this nation and around the world who are paid poverty wages while having to work in dangerous environments with limited access to insurance and benefits. We call on Walmart to share its corporate wealth with workers by providing a living wage, benefits that include paid vacation and holidays, and a safe workplace for all workers.”
Asked to respond to allegations Walmart doesn’t treat its workers fairly, the company’s corporate office provided the Journal with a page-long letter from its media relations department. The letter dismisses the demonstrations as union-backed “publicity stunts” and states that the overwhelming majority of Walmart workers are excited about Black Friday and more than a million will be working over the holiday weekend to serve customers.
The letter also notes that 250,000 Walmart employees have been with the company more than 10 years, 165,000 hourly workers received promotions last year, 75 percent of store managers started out as hourly workers, and the company received more than 5 million job applications last year.
“We appreciate our associates for everything they do to serve our customers during this busy shopping season and every day throughout the year. Walmart’s success is due to their hard work and dedication,” the letter concludes.
Demonstrations were held at four Walmart stores in Albuquerque, the one at the Carlisle Boulevard location drawing about 100 people. Other demonstrations were held in Farmington, Gallup, Los Lunas and Rio Rancho.