Fired Walmart Workers Ask Marissa Mayer For Help

In the past week, Walmart has fired 11 workers who participated in protests against the retail chain, according to organizers. One of them was Vanessa Ferreira. After losing her job of eight years, Ferreira decided to take up her grievance with someone with the power to help: business icon, Yahoo CEO and Walmart board member Marissa Mayer.

Walmart activists have been putting the heat on Mayer, who as a member of an elite pantheon of female business celebrities, makes for an especially compelling target. In May, they staged protests outside her Palo Alto mansion and San Francisco's Four Seasons Hotel, where she has a penthouse apartment. On the eve of Mayer's first shareholder's meeting as Yahoo's chief, they planted themselves in the lobby of Yahoo's headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif., to ask for a tete-a-tete. And on Tuesday, the Walmart protesters infiltrated the shareholder's meeting itself.

After the presentation, one of the protesters asked Mayer directly why she wasn't a better advocate for Walmart workers, with a preamble about her pioneering work for women in the world of business and tech.

Mayer deflected (just as she deflected another non-Yahoo-related shareholder comment -- "I'm Greek, and I'm a dirty old man and you look attractive"). But she did give Ferreira the card of an assistant, and told her to set up a meeting.

"We're hoping that she will," says Ferreira, who scored a seat in Tuesday's meeting thanks to a generous Yahoo shareholder who is sympathetic to her cause. But labor activists are keeping any optimism in check. Walmart board members have left workers hanging before, protesters say. And the day before, Mayer had ignored the protesters who were in her lobby, even as five were dragged away by police.

"She refused to meet us in her office for the last two years," says Barbara Collins, the Walmart employee who asked Mayer the question in the shareholder's meeting. "It's now an emergency."

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