By Stephanie Kimec
As I reflect on my experience at the Walmart in Paramount, Calif. on Black Friday, I find myself thinking of sacred space. Surrounded by workers, activists, clergy and media, eight advocates and I sat in the street to call attention to the immoral ways Walmart treats its employees. We were all arrested.
The holding cell I shared with two Walmart employees was transformed into a sacred space as they shared their experiences working at Walmart. Both have looked for other jobs, but have yet to find any. Both of them spent Thanksgiving Day at work, away from their families, after Walmart decided to stay open on Thanksgiving Day. One of the workers said she spent the holiday dealing with angry customers. Because Walmart never closed on Thanksgiving Day and night, certain items went on special sales at special times, which caused a lot of frustration for the customers and tension for the staff. The woman was clearly exhausted. She did not get the opportunity to spend the day with friends or family, or eat turkey. Both women shared stories of coworkers who had been at Walmart long enough to remember that there was a time, not more than 15-20 years ago, when Walmart valued its workers and treated them with respect. That time is long gone. These days, Walmart employees do far more work for far less pay. All these workers want is a Walmart that’s a place where employees matter, earn fair wages, have opportunities to care for and support their families, have access to health benefits, and a regular work schedule. As I sat there listening to the two women’s stories, I couldn’t help but feel humbled and inspired by their courage and sense of hope. They and thousands of Walmart employees are putting their livelihood on the line. What they’re doing could change the working conditions and standards not only at Walmart, but throughout the retail industry.
Through my Black Friday experience and from supporting the campaign to bring change at Walmart, I’ve also become more aware of the injustice Walmart-contracted warehouse workers struggle with.They work in unsafe conditions, are offered low wages and threatened if they try to speak out. Walmart workers and advocates were risking arrest in hopes it calls attention to Walmart, and the corporation decides to listen to its employees and finally begin treating them as human beings, people with rights.
I pray that Walmart repents, and as the Hebrew word for repent means “turns back from sinful ways.” I pray Walmart becomes a place that cares about and for its employees, shares its vast wealth with the very people who have allowed it to become so wealthy, and becomes a place that fosters love instead of greed.
Stephanie Kimec is a US-2 Young Adult Missionary with the United Methodist Church, she is currently working with the Immigration Task Force in California. Stephanie is an active supporter of Making Change at Walmart, OUR Walmart, and IWJ's Jubilee at Walmart campaigns.
On Black Friday, thousands of people of faith and workers advocates stood with Walmart workers calling on the corporation to treat workers more fairly with higher wages and safer working conditions at stores and along its supply chain and to end illegal retaliation against workers who speak out. On the busiest shopping day of the year, workers walked out in cities across the country and advocates proudly held solidarity actions in support.
Most Black Fridays, I avoid retail stores like the plague. I prefer to enjoy the day with family and friends. This year, I’m venturing out – not in search of that “good deal,” but in support of justice for Walmart workers.
We Americans love our deals. I do my share of bargain shopping and coupon clipping. But we also want workers to be paid fairly and treated decently. Companies can make large profits, but we expect them to share their prosperity with workers.
Walmart is the world’s largest retailer. As the nation’s largest private employer with 1.4 million workers, Walmart is the largest employer of women, African Americans and Latinos. Because of its size, Walmart sets the standard for retail work in the nation. Walmart’s standard is bargain basement. In our faith communities, we believe that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” We expect more from Walmart.
Walmart pays low wages ($8.81 starting rate). They also schedule workers who want and need full time work and benefits part time hours. Thousands of workers can’t work the hours they need to support their families, and they aren’t eligible for company-provided (although expensive) health care benefits. Walmart claims to serve low-income people by setting cheap prices, but it often pushes workers to poverty with its erratic, insufficient scheduling and low wages.
Walmart workers have formed an organization call OUR Walmart pushing the company to be better. The OUR Walmart leaders I’ve met enjoy working in retail and want Walmart to prosper, but also they want to share in the prosperity. They want better wages, full-time hours and family affordable benefits. They want to be treated with respect and dignity. They want to know that those who work in Walmart’s warehouses, and produce products for Walmart are also treated fairly.
This Black Friday, people of faith around the country are standing with Walmart workers. Some of us will be offering prayers outside the stores. Some of us will be talking with managers inside the stores. Others will be organizing flash mobs inside and outside the stores.
We won’t stop anyone from shopping, but we do want to get Walmart’s attention. And based on Walmart’s filing charges at the National Labor Relations Board attempting to stop the actions, it appears that we’ve already gotten Walmart’s attention.
Walmart could be a more successful company and raise the standards in the retail industry if it embraces workers and pay middle-class wages and benefits, create and implement ethical sourcing and community benefit policies.
So this Black Friday, I’ll be outside Walmart. Perhaps next year, I can be inside shopping.
By J.R. Green
Hyatt workers have been at this for three years. They’re fighting for their right to work without fear of injury. They’re fighting for their right to work for a living wage. In some places, they’re fighting to work as an actual employee rather than as “permanent-temps.” They’re fighting for dignity and basic human rights. IWJ and our supporters are working with UNITE HERE to bring about the Kingdom of God here on Earth and support these workers as they call for justice and dignity at work.
On Nov. 17, in the middle of the annual joint conference of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature, a group of orthodox rabbis and teachers will be honoring their commitment to boycott the Hyatt Corporation. On Saturday, in order to observe the Sabbath, these prophetic worker advocates won’t be able to use any form of transportation. Instead, they will walk from their hotel in downtown Chicago to McCormick Place in order to join the conference. We have the opportunity to support them and walk in solidarity with them.
As people of faith, we have the obligation to support in prayer and in action any act that stands against oppression and injustice. These rabbis and teachers will be sending a message that convenience and ease is no match for justice and honor. The walk may be long but it will be full of joy as we walk in solidarity with those who are willing to sacrifice their ease for the sake of another.
I am a Christian, so I’m just going to frame this in a Christian manner. The Kingdom of God is already here and all around us and still not yet fulfilled. “Already but not yet,” theology is a cornerstone in active faith. When we have opportunities to bring about the Kingdom of God in our daily life, we should be moved to participate. Not everyone can be present physically, but everyone, no matter their faith, can support the workers, rabbis, teachers and supporters in prayer. Join us in prayer and/or in person as we sing and march our way through Chicago, making the statement that justice is coming and the fight will soon be over.
J.R. Green is a seminary student at North Park University and an organizing intern with IWJ. J.R. is working with our union friends on a number of national worker justice campaigns.
By Blake Valenta and the Rev. Michael Livingston
This Nov. 23, at precisely 12:01 AM, millions of Americans will surge into their local Walmart. They will go eagerly searching for the rock bottom prices Walmart stakes its reputation on. But this focus on low prices comes at a cost—a cost felt in the daily lives of the workers directly and indirectly employed by Walmart. In response, Walmart workers in recent months courageously went on strike over wages and safety concerns. This Black Friday, Interfaith Worker Justice asks people of faith to stand in support of the workers of Walmart, by organizing or joining prayer vigils at their local Walmart. Doing so will be an act of faith in concert with the sacred texts of many religious traditions. For many of you this may be your first prayer vigil. So we would like to take a few minutes to comment on the working conditions of Walmart workers, the effects of these conditions, what the workers are doing to change these circumstances, and what you can do to support them.
As you may have read, OUR Walmart issued a warning to Walmart that their intimidation tactics, poor pay, and worker mistreatment must change or they “will make sure that Black Friday is memorable for them." Interfaith Worker Justice is calling on clergy and people of faith to make a stand: to publicly demonstrate their desire for Walmart to do what is best for the company, its workers, and the surrounding community via prayer vigils at their local store. It is not known which Walmarts will be affected by the threatened walk offs, but the issues outlined above affect all Walmart workers.
You are not being asked to attack Walmart (leave the pitchfork and torches at home!). We are simply inviting you to ask an extremely profitable company to ensure their workers are paid a living wage and have decent benefits. It is not a boycott. You are not being asked to block shoppers or shout at management. Instead, you are, through your prayers, educating Walmart and Black Friday shoppers of the human cost of these low prices. You are telling them that, for a mere 42 cents more, they could purchase that heavily discounted TV from a well-paid employee instead of a poverty wage part-time worker. You are asking Walmart to expand its vision beyond its myopic cost cutting focus and out to the wider community where its employees and shoppers live. In addition, your presence will act as a beacon of support to the employees who may be walking off in protest, considering walking off, or just unhappy with how they are treated.
This excerpt originally appeared in Unbound, an interactive journal for Christian Social Justice. Click here to read the entire article. Graphic courtesy of Making Change at Walmart!
Election Day marked a great victory for working people across the country, and it’s only the beginning. Voters in Albuquerque, N.M., San Jose and Long Beach Calif. chose to increase wages for the lowest-paid workers in their communities. In the absence of national minimum wage legislation, voters in individual communities are calling for an increase in the minimum wage for their lowest-paid neighbors, and telling local leaders a higher minimum wage is necessary to create economic recovery and help working families make ends meet.
Albuquerque’s minimum wage will increase from $7.50 to $8.50 an hour and will be automatically adjusted for inflation in subsequent years. In an effort supported by IWJ's affiliate in San Jose, the Interfaith Council on Economics and Justice, voters approved a measure to raise the minimum wage from $8 to $10 an hour. In Long Beach, the minimum wage for hotel workers was raised to $13 an hour; workers will be guaranteed five paid sick days a year as well.
Sixty percent of voters supported these ballot initiatives, and a national poll conducted by Lake Research discovered that 73 percent of likely U.S. voters support increasing the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation over the past 40 years, it would be $10.55 an hour.
In 2013, IWJ and our affiliates will continue their work to increase the minimum wage in states throughout the country. As the cost of housing and goods continues to rise across the country, working people need adequate wages to keep their families out of poverty.
Together we can push lawmakers to make raising the federal minimum wage a priority in 2013. Click here to sign the petition.
God of all
We pray for our nation after this prolonged period of campaigning with hopes that those elected to lead, at every level, will work now for your people. We pray these men and women will humble themselves to the sacred task of governing for the people who cast votes, not the corporations and wealthy individuals who paid for influence. We pray for legislators who will care about jobs for the unemployed and underemployed, education and opportunity for children, and health care for all, especially the most vulnerable among us.
We pray for laws that will protect and respect the earth—this planet created to be a home for all humanity, not a thing to be owned and exploited for profit by a few. We pray for regulations that will harness the hubris and greed of the financial sector. We pray for governance that knows the difference between a financial system and an economy, the one that has become a perverted and unregulated industry, the other a living organism of earth and human life.
We pray for wisdom not rhetoric; generosity not indifference, and justice not patronage. We want legislators working across the aisle, not erecting barriers like the border walls that imprison even those who seek to keep others out. We pray for a just sharing in the expense of government, let those blessed with great wealth give according to their means, let all give as they are able.
We pray for leaders gifted in diplomacy, blessed with character and integrity; leaders who know our security comes from relationships of trust and communication, not superior guns, more bombs and bloated armed services.
For our part give us the patience to give our leaders a chance to govern with grace, compassion, justice, and love. Let us support sincere effort and celebrate wise compromise. Make us accountable to our faith and so hold those we elect accountable to serve all the people, not just those who can afford to pay for self-serving polices.
May we never cease to pray, and to hope, and to work for justice for all.