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WalMart union protests fail to deter bargain-seekers

Bloomberg/New York 25 Nov 12 | 12:59 AM

Jamie Walsh faced a Black Friday dilemma: take advantage of WalMart’s deals at the Salem, New Hampshire, store or support union-backed protesters demanding better pay and benefits.

In the end, the deals won the day. Walsh, 42, wearing a sweatshirt from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2222, where her late brother-in-law was vice-president, said she was aware of the union protests planned at WalMart Stores Inc locations around the US on Saturday.

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Still, she decided to buy an $89 electric ride-in Jeep, a LeapPad tablet, a dollhouse, a Sony Corp PlayStation and a $78 flatscreen television.

“It bothers me, but their prices are so good," said Walsh, who is from Dorchester, Massachusetts, and works as a medical assistant at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The United Food & Commercial Workers International Union had planned more than 1,000 demonstrations online and at WalMart stores around the country on Saturday to protest what it says are the retailer’s manipulation of hours and benefits, efforts to keep people from working full time and discrimination against women and minorities.

The protests failed to reduce traffic at the world’s largest retailer. Wal Mart said on Saturday that it had larger crowds than last year and drew about 22 million customers yesterday. The retailer said in a statement that it has sold more than 1.3 million televisions, 1.3 million dolls and 250,000 bicycles since its promotions began at 8 pm yesterday.

WalMart said only 26 protests took place at stores last night and fewer than 50 associates participated. WalMart rose 1.9 per cent to $70.2 at the close in New York. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company’s shares have gained 17 per cent this year. About 1,000 protesters massed outside a WalMart store in Paramount, California, after 7 am and nine were arrested for failing to follow police orders to disperse about five hours later, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Captain Mike Parker said in an e-mailed statement.

The protesters had informed the 40 sheriff’s deputies at the scene of their intention to be arrested, and the arrests occurred without incident, Parker said. The scene returned to normal about 20 minutes later, he said. Activists were bused into one of the union-backed groups’ marquee events, held in Secaucus, New Jersey. Accompanied by a small band, more than 100 people marched with signs outside the store’s entrance. Workers didn’t join them.

“These people need their jobs," said Dave Stump, 72, a semi-retired Catholic priest who works in Jersey City. “They’re afraid for their jobs, even though they’re being treated terribly. We’re speaking up for them."

Marcus Blake, 37, a Boston resident shopping with his 15- year-old son at the WalMart in Salem wasn’t as sympathetic. “They need to get with the programme or get a new job," said Blake, who works in property management.

“People work on the holidays. I’m on call 24 hours." One worker walked out of the Wal Mart in Miami Gardens, Florida, Muhammad Malik, a community activist connected to the union, said in a telephone interview last night.

He organised what he estimated to be about 70 people, including what he said was about 30 WalMart employees, outside that store from about 7:45 pm to 9:15 pm yesterday.

In Dallas, protesters had been to two stores by 8 pm, Janna Pea, another union organiser, said in a telephone interview. Pea said the group protested at the first store for 10 minutes before security kicked them off the property.

“We weren’t able to do much," she said. The group began protesting in front of the second store as shoppers began filing in. Security forced them leave there, too. The group ended up standing on the side of the road near the entrance to the store’s parking lot, she said. About a dozen activists from several unions swept through the supercentre in Methuen, Massachusetts, to distribute OUR Walmart leaflets to employees this morning. They left after about 10 minutes when store management took notice.

“The point is to get them into the hands of employees," said DJ Cronin, an IBEW membership development organiser. The protests take place as the National Labour Relations Board weighs a complaint Wal-Mart filed against the union November 15 accusing it of violating federal labour laws by illegally picketing. The company said the union has tried to force the company to the bargaining table although it does not officially represent its employees.

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