Walmart may have found a way to stick it to underpaid workers while still serving up a feeding frenzy for holiday shoppers. The retail giant will counter a workers’ strike planned for Black Friday by opening up ahead of schedule the night before.
America’s largest retailer was looking at a perpetual nightmare as workers across the US have announced plans to stay home on Black Friday this year, the day after the country’s Thanksgiving holiday that typically serves as the starting block for big spending leading up to Christmas. In recent years, Black Friday festivities have meant days-long lines for eager shoppers and seemingly endless shifts for workers at major stores who must put in graveyard shifts to move products. Walmart employees attempted to put a thorn in the side of the store by walking out this year during Black Friday, protesting the company’s poor relations with its workers by going on strike when they are needed most. Now it an apparent maneuver to make sure that move doesn’t stand up, Walmart is announcing that they will open earlier the night before to start sales before a strike can begin.
“In addition to offering amazing low prices on the season’s top gifts, Walmart is taking the historic step to ensure wish-list items like the Apple iPad2 are available for customers during a special one-hour event on Thanksgiving,” the store announced this month.
“We know it’s frustrating for customers to shop on Black Friday and not get the items they want,” Duncan Mac Naughton, Walmart’s chief marketing officer, tells ABC News. “This year, for the first time ever, customers that shop during Walmart’s one-hour event will be guaranteed to have three of the most popular items under their tree at a great low price.”
Many employees are far from happy, however, especially given alleged mistreatment at the hands of management in recent months. In September, dozens of employees at Walmart warehouses in both Southern California and the Chicago area walked out on the job, in turn generating support from members of the the labor movement and activist collectives, including Occupy Wall Street. Last month an employee filed a class-action lawsuit against the store alleging mistreatment against temporary staffers
“These workers are sick of toiling in 100-plus-degree heat, they’re sick of poverty wages and, most of all, they’re sick of being ignored by management,” Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, director of the grassroots activist group SumOfUs.org, said in a statement.
When one former staffer showed up at a protest in September to discuss the company’s tactics against workers, he was arrested by police and handcuffed on the scene.
Walmart managers are trying “to make sure that nobody joins any union, any organization, nothing whatsoever,” Alex Rivera told The Nation when recalling his experience.
Organizers with the union-backed groups OUR Walmart and Making Change at Wal-Mart told CNN earlier this week that they had employees at roughly 1,000 stores across the US ready to strike on Black Friday, a small but substantial number of the retailer’s 1.3 million workers.
"Even if there aren't that many people, it could have an effect, because their campaign in front of stores could discourage shoppers," Ken Margolies, senior associate at the Worker Institute a Cornell University, told CNN.
Now with only days to spare, organizers with the anti-Walmart organizations are trying to move protests ahead of schedule, ideally starting off a strike Thanksgiving evening ahead of Friday’s shopping frenzy.