For several years now the United Food and Commercial Union (UFCW) has financially backed a drive to organize Walmart’s low-wage workers and target Black Friday for a day of protests and strikes. The UFCW has quietly convinced a small number of Walmart associates across the nation to form a non-union organization called OUR Walmart, or Organization United for Respect at Walmart. OUR Walmart members feel their cause to be historic as they speak out for a living wage and greater benefits. But they seek an even bigger concession, and it won’t cost the Waltons, the family that owns Walmart, or their stockholders a cent – greater respect. Two Black Friday protests are planned for Columbus and its suburbs beginning at 9 am at the Walmart at 3657 E. Main in Whitehall and the Walmart at 6674 Canal Winchester Blvd. in Canal Winchester. OUR Walmart and the UFCW have been telling the national media this year’s Black Friday protests will be bigger and louder than any of the previous years. But by all accounts OUR Walmart in Central Ohio doesn’t have the level of influence over Walmart associates as in other national regions, such as Southern California, or even Cincinnati and Northerm Kentucky, for that matter. After speaking with the UFCW Local 1059 President Randy Quickel – who declined to be quoted – the Local 1059 told the Free Press they have nothing to do with the two local Black Friday protests at Walmart. Instead, the protests were organized by local activists with apparent help from the national group, Jobs With Justice. While their presence in Central Ohio is sparse, an OUR Walmart leader from Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati told the Free Press they have organized “thousands” nationally. “We have thousands of members,” claims Aaron Lawson, a lower-tier nighttime manager at his Walmart who spends vacations traveling with OUR Walmart and UFCW organizers on recruitment missions. “We are trying to get 100,000 workers signed up nationwide and all the UFCW locals and different organizations like Jobs with Justice are helping us out.” Walmart, of course, is retaliating against OUR Walmart, says Lawson, as some members have been terminated or suspended. But most OUR Walmart members remain on the job as they’ve turned to regional National Labor Relations Board offices for protection. Just like union workers, non-union workers under labor laws cannot be disciplined for walking off the job when protesting conditions that fall under federal Unfair Labor Practices. Nevertheless, is the Local 1059 doing all it can to organize regional Walmart associates? Or are they keeping a low-profile regarding local efforts to organize for OUR Walmart? The Walton family has accused the UFCW of simply being out for their own financial gain, considering unionizing Walmart associates could equate to a huge trove of paid dues. The Local 1059 in their Unionwize bi-monthly publication claim they began a serious effort to organize for OUR Walmart this past summer, stating, “Every single associate organizer we were able to speak with outside of work agreed to join OUR Walmart.” Yet the national UFCW, after repeated requests, has been unable to introduce a single OUR Member from Central Ohio to this reporter who’s been covering the OUR Walmart story for three years. One UFCW organizer whose region includes Kentucky and parts of Ohio, suggested to the Free Press the answer could be a lack of local firepower. He said, like many UFCW regional offices, the Local 1059 simply doesn’t have the muscle to convince Walmart associates to join OUR Walmart, and thus limiting the picket lines and flashmobs that might materialize at Central Ohio Walmarts this Black Friday. “It’s a sign of the times,” said the UFCW organizer who refused to offer his name for publication. “The labor movement is not what it used to be. Organizers and staff are spread thin. Unions don’t have the unlimited funds they used to have. It’s sad, it really is.” Another sign of the times, no doubt, is the appetite of the American consumer and complete disrespect for low-wage retail workers forced to work long hours on Black Friday, hours that are quickly creeping into Thanksgiving. The National Retail Foundation claims 33 million Americans plan on shopping this Thanksgiving, meaning more and more retail workers are clocking in on Thanksgiving and well into Black Friday, offering these workers no time with family. On Thanksgiving day, Toys “R” Us will open at 5 pm, Best Buy at 6 pm, Target at 8 pm, and Macy’s will now open at 8 pm, breaking a 155-year tradition of not opening on the holiday. Even Burger King will be open. Usually the greediest and stingiest corporate turkey of the year is Walmart considering they employ the most in retail and pay them the least. But this year Walmart, which is opening its doors at 6 pm on Thanksgiving, said it’s serving a turkey dinner to 1 million employees, which gives new meaning to “soup kitchen”, especially if you consider the number of Walmart employees supported by some type of government subsidy or charity. Indeed, just this month in Canton, Ohio, Walmart associates held a food drive for other associates so they “can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner” read a placard near plastic bins. Nevertheless, Walmart’s executive vice president Duncan Mac Naughton recently said with a straight face that associates are “really excited to work that day.” Derrek Plummer, a UFCW spokesperson from the union’s Washington office, suggests if you don’t like Mac Naughton’s projecting, then it’s best you start supporting and spreading the word about OUR Walmart. Plummer says while some communities may still be in the dark about OUR Walmart, the Waltons are fully aware that a threat of unionization is creeping into their stores. A recent Walmart commercial blitz is slapping themselves on the back for the number of Walmart associates making over $25,000 a year. The UFCW, however, says most of these associates are in management. “These commercials are a direct response to the pressure and engagement put out by OUR Walmart,” says Plummer from the union’s Washington office. “This organization is growing every day, and when we first started, Walmart ignored us. But if you look at Walmart’s recent actions, they’re beginning to pay attention. The Walmart PR machine has been in overdrive in response to OUR Walmart.”

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