100 Walmart Protesters Reportedly Arrested In 15-City Strike [UPDATED]

Mariya Pylayev/AOL
UPDATE September 6, 7:00 am: One hundred Walmart workers and activists in 11 cities were arrested Thursday as part of a wave of protests against the retail giant, OUR Walmart, the protest organizer, said in a release late Thursday. Thousands of workers and activists in 15 cities participated in the protests, the largest action against Walmart since Black Friday's protests, according to OUR Walmart, the organizer.

Three protesters -- one current Walmart worker, two former workers -- were arrested on charges of trespassing early Thursday after they tried to hand-deliver a petition to Walmart board member Christopher Williams in New York City. The petition calls for Walmart to offer full-time work with a minimum salary of $25,000 a year and reinstate those workers allegedly fired for their labor activism.

According to independent analysts and surveys by websites including Glassdoor, Walmart workers make an average of $8 to $9 an hour. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer says the average wage for the "majority" of its hourly employees is $12.78 an hour.

In addition to the petition drop-off, protesters are also planning to stage a protest at Marissa Mayer's apartment at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco. (The Yahoo CEO sits on the board of Walmart.) Thursday's activism is the latest and largest after ten months of similar actions which began last November, when Walmart workers staged protests at roughly 1,000 stores to coincide with "Black Friday."

"It's very difficult to support your family on Walmart wages," recently fired Walmart worker Jovani Gomez told AOL Jobs. Gomez, who is 25 and whose girlfriend is pregnant, worked five years as a meat sales associate for Walmart in Lakewood, Calif., before he was let go. He says he was fired for participating in protests. "They start us at barely over minimum wage and so they lie when they say they are going to provide living wages." Gomez is taking part in Thursday's protest in Los Angeles.

The nationwide strike however is likely to be nothing more than "symbolic," according to Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University. "You're not seeing two million workers joining the movement. Many are just happy to have their job." (The total size of the global Walmart workforce is 2.2 million workers.)

Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg told AOL Jobs that Walmart is not threatened by the activism. "The protests have never actually been able to get more than a 100 associates at a protest, in spite of what organizers say. This is a union campaign made up of union members and activists."

Are Walmart workers content?
Walmart is pushing hard to marginalize protesters, stressing, as Lundberg notes, that one in four Walmart employees have worked for the company for ten years or more. The task of defending the working conditions at Walmart has even been taken on by Walmart CEO Mike Duke himself. Appearing late last month on CNBC, Duke said, "less than one percent of our associates make the minimum wage," before adding, "the vast majority of our associates are paid more than that." Indeed, Walmart says the average wage for "the majority of hourly associates," is $12.78 an hour, according to Lundberg. (There are roughly one million hourly workers at Walmart.)

Mariya Pylayev/AOL
But when asked why the company doesn't share the average wage for all its 2.2 million Walmart workers, Lundberg told AOL Jobs, "that is not a number we release." Three separate outside organizations however have done studies on average pay for all Walmart workers, and all three report figures that range from $8.81 to $9.64 (Payscale.com).

Walmart workers and new labor
The day of action was a follow-up to last November's Black Friday strike, which marked the first time Walmart workers rallied for greater rights in a coordinated action across the country. Previously, workers had only organized at single store locations. And as AOL Jobs reported, 1,000 Walmart stores were targeted.

"The labor movement is trying to recast itself as the heir to the civil rights movements that speaks to working families in general, so as to not just be a force at the bargaining table," Chaison said. "If it doesn't succeed in trying to become a political force, unions will be seen as a force whose time has come and gone."

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