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Walmart workers stage unprecedented strike

The Organization United for Respect (OUR Walmart) protests outside of the Walmart offices in Bentonville, Ark., on October 10, 2012.

Walmart had a bit of luck in the markets today. Just as investors were gathered down in Bentonville, Ark., for the company's annual investor meeting, shares hit an all-time high up in New York.

Chief Executive Officer Mike Duke says the retailer's business is strong and growing. But outside headquarters in Arkansas and at stores the country, a protest against the world's biggest retailer is growing too. A small but unprecedented strike by Walmart employees -- non-unionized employees -- is spreading.

Among the Walmart protesters was Linda Haluska. The 51-year-old works 40 hours a week stocking shelves on the night shift at a Walmart in Glenwood, Ill. But she had traveled all the way to Bentonville to voice her grievances about Walmart’s labor practices. Haluska didn’t seem worried about losing her job.
 
“No. I’m not worried about that. I’m not worried about that at all,” she said. “If they feel that they have to fire me because -- then really that’s reason why I need to be out here.”
 
Haluska was part of a protest sponsored by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The union says 200 people took part in Bentonville and more participated in actions around the country. That’s just tiny sliver of Walmart’s 1.4 million employees in the U.S.

For Haluska and other workers, pay is a big issue. The average wage for full-time Walmart workers is about $12.50 an hour, but she says it took her seven years to earn just that much.

Another Chicago area worker, Tyrone Robinson, complained that Walmart was cutting hours of staff workers. A few months after he took a full-time job at Walmart, the supercenter he helped to open began laying off employees and hiring temps. He says he barely gets 25 hours a week. He has had to move in with an aunt -- he could no longer afford his apartment. Robinson says while he’s not officially striking, he is worried that attending the protest could put his job in jeopardy, but he feels he had to be there.
 
“Yes, I’m off today, but I’m not worried about it, because I just can’t be silent no more,” he said.
 
Asked to comment on the protesters’ complaints, a Walmart spokesman said millions of people want to work for the company. He added that pay and benefits at Walmart typically exceed that of competitors.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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