Walmart Retaliates: Fires Striker
The union-backed labor group OUR Walmart alleged Friday night that Walmart has retaliated against multiple workers who went on strike and traveled to its Arkansas headquarters this month, including Florida employee Lisa Lopez, whom the retail giant fired Friday.
“I think they don’t want me to actually let people know what’s really going on at Walmart as an associate,” Lopez told The Nation. “So they’d rather get rid of me.” Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday night.
As The Nation has reported, about a hundred members of the retail workers’ group OUR Walmart, which is closely tied to the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, mounted a several-day strike in the lead-up to the retail giant’s June 7 shareholder meeting. That first-ever prolonged strike by US Walmart employees, which began May 28, brought Lopez and others workers from across the country to Walmart’s Bentonville, Arkansas, hometown, where they staged a week of protests.
The OUR Walmart campaign described Lopez as a prominent activist, noting that she was the star of a campaign video, posted to Youtube May 31, which highlighted her reliance on food stamps and a second job to support her family. Lopez drew the attention of local and national media (including The Nation) during OUR Walmart’s November 23 “Black Friday” strike, when US Congressman-elect Alan Grayson came to her St. Cloud, Florida, store to escort her off the job.
Lopez told The Nation that she was informed by management Friday that she was being fired, ostensibly for bringing a Walmart policy book into the deli area where she works on May 23. Lopez, a nearly two-year employee, said she had received two previous disciplinary “coachings” from Walmart since Black Friday: one for wearing earrings, and one for not completing her assigned work by the end of her shift. OUR Walmart has previously filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Lopez was being singled out because of her activism. Lopez said that the earring rule was a newly-implemented policy that a co-worker was not disciplined for violating; that the time that she couldn’t finish her workload was due to understaffing; and that management gave her no indication last month that having brought the rule book to her work space would cost her her job.
Walmart employee Johnathan LaFavor, who also struck this month, told The Nation that the news of Lopez’s firing “makes me real angry.” He said he would tell his Tampa, Florida, co-workers that the firing was illegal, and that “through OUR Walmart, we have a way to fight back.”
A May report by the union-funded non-profit American Rights at Work—Jobs With Justice counted 150 incidents of alleged intimidation against activist Walmart employees, including the terminations of six early OUR Walmart leaders since 2011. Walmart contractors or sub-contractors have fired at least seven workers active in the union-backed groups Warehouse Workers United or Warehouse Workers Organizing Committee; four were reinstated after workers at Walmart’s Elwood, Illinois, distribution center went on strike last fall.
Walmart has previously denied retaliating against employees, but has not denied holding mandatory meetings to discourage workers from joining OUR Walmart. The company did not respond to a June 10 inquiry regarding whether any of the strikers would be “permanently replaced.” Federal labor law generally prohibits firing or otherwise punishing workers (though not always “permanently replacing” them) for participating in strikes or other protected forms of “concerted activity.”
While acknowledging that strikes pose a risk of retaliation, OUR Walmart activists have described their strikes as a way of highlighting and punishing such intimidation. OUR Walmart strategist Dan Schlademan told The Nation last month that while “there is always a risk that a company like Walmart will break the law,” striking offers workers’ “strongest way to respond to Walmart retaliation, and I think all of these workers understand that.” “That’s why we’re doing this,” San Leandro, California, striker Dominic Ware said during the most recent strike, “to get rid of the fear and put an end to retaliation.” Strikers who traveled to Arkansas this month said that more of their co-workers would have joined them if they didn’t worry it would cost them their jobs.
In a Monday e-mail to The Nation, a Walmart garden center employee identified that risk as his reason for not speaking up. “I do not think I have ever hated any one thing in my life” as much as Walmart, said the employee, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation. “So why don’t I protest? We call the ‘open door policy,’ in which we are supposed to be able to voice [our] concern to management without fear of reprisal, the ‘out the door’ policy. Complain, get fired…. Those protesters will be terminated, or forced to quit. Walmart does not tolerate dissenters.”
Lopez told The Nation that following her firing, “I want to be more involved, because there are other associates that are going to continue to go through what I’m going through, and not be a voice, and be silent, and be afraid.” “I’m a believer in my goals,” she added, “and I want to make our associates a better life at Walmart.”