While thousands of shoppers were out on November 28 making Black Friday purchases, about 30 protesters were picketing the Walmart in Vista. A group of teachers, labor union leaders, students, and one priest gathered at the University Avenue store at 8:30 a.m.
Spokesperson for the group, Shannon Lienhart, co-president of the Palomar Faculty Federation, says the purpose of the protest, organized by the North County Labor Alliance, was to ask shoppers to boycott Walmart until employees are paid a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
I asked Lienhart if she thought a successful boycott would mean a layoff of many workers inside the store. She responded, “Not if they unionize.” She admitted that the protest was really about getting Walmart employees to unionize.
“Do they want to unionize?” I asked.
“There is a lot of fear of job loss if [Walmart employees] become involved,” she said. “We need to educate them.”
In advance of the planned protest, Walmart issued a statement to the Coast News. Company spokesperson Kevin Gardner stated only about one-half of one percent of Walmart’s 1.2 million employees, nationwide, are at minimum wage. “Our associates understand the unparalleled opportunity the company provides, including career growth, cash bonuses, a 401K program education, and training programs,” stated Gardner.
The Vista Walmart general manager (“Todd”) spoke cordially to the group but would not speak to the Reader. I was referred to Walmart’s corporate public relations department, which was not available for comment due to the holiday weekend.
Previously published reports indicate a nationwide group known as “Our Walmart,” made up of current Walmart employees, was organizing similar events to unionize.
Approached in the parking lot before he walked into the store, Steve from Vista was asked if the protest would cause him to change his purchasing decisions. “They [the protesters] are mistaken in their concept,” he said in broken English. “Walmart is for low cost so many people will have jobs. More expensive, less jobs. They are barking up the wrong tree,” he added.
Not wanting to be identified, a 20-year-old collecting Walmart shopping carts in the parking lot said he didn’t care what the protesters were saying. “I make nine bucks an hour, and I’m just here while in school.”
The protesters brought up the wealth of the Walmart family, saying they are “the richest family in America” and “they make too much money.” Lienhart said, “The money spent today is funding the Waltons’ bank account. They can afford to pay their workers a livable wage.”