Union front groups say they will protest outside more than 2,000 Walmart locations on Friday, but labor critics do not expect to find too many workers in their midst.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union announced through its subsidiary OUR Walmart that they will once again turn out picketers at Walmart locations across the country to demand higher wages and cooperation with union efforts.
"This Black Friday, Walmart workers are taking on the wealthiest family in the country," OUR Walmart said in a release. "Far too many Walmart workers continue to live in poverty and rely on public programs like food stamps to survive, while Walmart rakes in $16 billion a year in profits. The Walton family that controls Walmart has more wealth than 43 percent of Americans combined. That’s why 2,000+ stores (more than half of Walmart stores nationwide) have joined calls for $15 an hour and full-time work."
Neither the UFCW, nor OUR Walmart returned requests for comment.
The UFCW has long targeted the nation’s largest private employer for unionization and in 2011 created OUR Walmart as a subsidiary group. It has spent millions on OUR Walmart’s "spontaneous" one-day protests with the biggest generally coming on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year.
The protests amount to little more than astro-turf campaigns said Ryan Williams, a spokesman at labor watchdog Worker Center Watch who is critical of the actions.
"This is a manufactured protest put on by unions … by and large the protests we’ll see on Friday are union activists and college students," he said on a Tuesday conference call. "OUR Walmart is a beleaguered mess torn apart by internal struggle."
The protest movement courted controversy when the union fired two of its founding organizers, who then split off to create a new group under the same OUR Walmart banner. That could add a new dynamic to this year’s protests, according to Williams.
"This split in the movement shows that they’re disorganized, their tactics haven’t been working [and] even the rank and file membership are fed up with the amount of money spent on this protest," he said.
Glenn Spencer, a vice president at the Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative, does not expect the protests to look that much different from years past. He predicted low turnout among Walmart employees at the rallies, which he believes will consist largely of well-organized professional protesters sporting union colors.
"The people who show up in front of Walmart in a t-shirt or waving a sign tend not to be employees. They’ve had a very hard time getting actual employees to participate," Spencer said. "This year I don’t anticipate it would be much different"
The protests have backfired in certain areas with Walmart attaining injunctions and protective orders barring protesters from company grounds. OUR Walmart will not be allowed from picketing stores in Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Ohio, and Maryland this year. California protesters are allowed in the parking lot but may not enter the store.
The union claims these rallies are merely intended to help boost wages for workers. However, one UFCW whistleblower told the Washington Free Beacon in 2014 that its ultimate goal has always been unionization of the chain. Spencer said that the historical lack of worker participation at the rallies demonstrates that the group does not enjoy much support for this cause.
"These Black Friday protests have become as much of a tradition as the sales, but unlike the Black Friday protests, the sales are designed to give people stuff they actually want," Spencer said.
A Walmart spokesman said that the company stands by its labor practices and that it plans on expanding its training and wage programs over the next year.
"Our average full time hourly associate earns more than $13 an hour in addition to the opportunity for quarterly cash bonuses, matching 401k and healthcare benefits"" said Brian Nick. "Walmart is investing $2.7 billion over this year and next in wages, education and training for our associates because we know they make the difference."
UPDATE 24 November, 2015, 1:22 PM: This story has been updated to include a comment from a Walmart spokesman.