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.