Walmart workers hold hunger strike to press demands

WW photo: Dante STrobino

WW photo: Dante STrobino

Los Angeles, May 28 — Two dozen Walmart workers started a hunger strike for 24 hours on May 27, sleeping in tents occupying the front lawn of their workplace in downtown Los Angeles. Their goals were to win a wage-raise to $15 an hour, be assigned to work on regular work schedules and protest against retaliation. Several hundred other workers, supporters and union members from across California gathered at the store and marched downtown with them.

Even after the Los Angeles City Council voted May 19 to raise the minimum wage a dollar each year until it gets to $15 per hour by 2020, workers are still fighting for $15 an hour to be put in place immediately. They need this much to survive when faced with rising costs of rent, food and other necessities.

The action was planned in response to Walmart’s laying off more than 2,000 workers in the last month. The layoff involved closing five stores, including the temporary closure of a store in the nearby Los Angeles neighborhood of Pico Rivera. Workers from that store were not given proper notice and no recall rights to get their jobs back once the store re-opens.

Daniel J. Coles II, OURWalmart member and Walmart worker, told Workers World, “The Walmart workers fasting action was to demand that Walmart management stop retaliation against Walmart associates for speaking up about the working conditions.”

Walmart is also preparing for its annual shareholder meeting on June 5 in Fayetteville, Ark. These meetings have been the site of major protests by workers the past two years.

Just two days before the rally, the L.A. County Federation of Labor President Rusty Hicks stated that he was campaigning the L.A. City Council to write rules allowing exemptions to the minimum wage for unionized workplaces into the new wage ordinance. This surrender of a wage gain upset many workers and union members, who are worried that it would lead unionized workers to have lower wages than non-union workers. They believe it will encourage companies to set up fake company unions to avoid paying workers a city-approved minimum wage.

Ricardo Rodriguez, president of United Electrical Workers Local 1077, representing newly organized low-wage rail crew transport van drivers, stated in a May 31 Los Angeles Workers Assembly statement in response to Hicks: “The City Council resolution speaks for itself. All workers should benefit from the wage increase, whether they are union or not. Our local members and all workers deserve at least $15 per hour now.”