Another Black Friday Walmart workers strike

If you’re heading out to go hunting for holiday deals on the day after Thanksgiving this year, there’s a possibility that you will run into some problems if you plan on looking for those early gifts at Walmart. Workers who are still trying to form a union among the chain store’s employees – and their supporters in “social justice” circles – are planning another walkout for the busiest shopping day of the year. The details, however, are still somewhat vague.

Walmart employees who are organizing as part of OUR Walmart are promising the biggest strikes ever on Black Friday, saying more employees will participate than the previous two years.

Barbara Gertz, an employee from Denver, Colorado, said organizers are expecting to see protests in 1,600 stores. While they don’t yet have a headcount of how many workers will strike or in how many cities, she said they’ve gotten calls “every day” from employees who want to join in. Protests will hit Los Angeles and a number of other major metropolitan areas. Employees at more than 2,100 Walmart stores across the country have signed an online petition asking for higher wages and better working conditions.

A similar strike movement in 2013 gained a lot of media traction, but in the end there seemed to be very little effect on shoppers or total sales. This year they are claiming that “tens of thousands” of workers have reached out to ask about a strike, but they “don’t have a headcount” of how many will participate. Supporters of the protest already admit that Walmart has been making changes in response to these requests, including raising wages for nearly all workers above the federal minimum, increasing options for maternity leave and opening more paths for advancement. But they still want wages raised closer to $15 per hour and more full time positions.

Walmart is in a competitive field, regardless of how opponents choose to describe them. Jacking up their labor costs overnight by 50 to 100 percent and converting a large swath of their workforce to full time status with company benefits would likely price them out of the market, but I suppose that’s not really a concern to the unions. They are also repeating claims that the company could easily jack up wages if they would only raise the price of some of their products. I’m guessing Target would declare a corporate holiday if that happened.

More to the point, however, I would note that for such a movement to gain widespread, grassroots support, ticking off the public en masse is probably not the best starting point. Shoppers are under enough stress as it is with the holidays creeping up on them, and finding their path blocked by angry workers toting signs is not exactly the most direct path the hearts and minds of the people. The one thing that will definitely get Walmart to offer a more lucrative deal to their employees is a rapidly growing economy and shrinking unemployment, combined with something closer to full work force participation. When Walmart – and all other retail employers – is unable to find sufficient workers to staff their stores at the current wage levels, they will raise them. It’s how business works.