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!