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Protesters target another Wal-Mart store, this time in L.A.

November 29, 2013|By Saba Hamedy, Andrea Chang and Tiffany Hsu
  • Protesters demonstrate outside a Wal-Mart store in Los Angeles' Crenshaw neighborhood on Black Friday.
Protesters demonstrate outside a Wal-Mart store in Los Angeles'… (Saba Hamedy / Los Angeles…)

The chants began around 11:30 a.m.

“Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart, you can’t hide, we can see your ugly side!" "Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart, you’re no good, treat your workers like you should." "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!"

About 200 people braved the rainy Southern California weather on Black Friday to protest what they called unfair Wal-Mart wages outside the chain's store in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles. A few hours earlier, a separate protest had taken place outside Wal-Mart's Ontario store.

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Wearing ponchos and juggling umbrellas and signs, the crowd of protesters in L.A. included Wal-Mart employees, families, consumers, local activists and religious groups. Some wore red T-shirts printed with the words "unite here."

Organizers created a makeshift stage, set up with microphones for a variety of musicians, religious figures, workers and advocates to voice their opinions against Wal-Mart. In front of the stage, a Thanksgiving table was set up; at each chair was a poster with a photo of one of the several Wal-Mart workers who had to work on Thanksgiving.

Signs read “People over profit,” “Billion air$ your time is up,” “No union busting allowed,” and “25k” to represent the yearly wage that protesters argue Wal-Mart workers should be making.

Throughout the protest, people were asked to sign a community letter to Wal-Mart demanding better pay and more respect for its employees.

Some cars driving by honked in solidarity as many shoppers continued to walk in and out of the store to go Black Friday shopping.

Daniel Coles, 50, was among the workers protesting outside the store. The Inglewood resident has worked for the discount giant for two decades and at the Crenshaw location for the last 11 years.

“I’m here to tell Wal-Mart corporation to stop bullying the associates, starting giving us a living wage so we can provide for our families," Coles said. "Also to stop them from telling people that we make 25k.”

Coles said he supports his 75-year-old mother and 54-year-old sister.

“I am the only one who is working in my family. I’m the sole provider," he said. "We [Walmart employees] struggle to make it. Struggle to pay the bills, pay my rent on time, put food on the table.”

He also joined protests last year and said he was frustrated that his efforts appeared to have no effect. “Yes, I am pretty much angry because Wal-Mart is not listening to us,” he said.

Around noon, Coles and other protesters walked into the Wal-Mart to ask to meet with store management. A Times reporter was not invited into the meeting.

Roughly 400 people work at the Crenshaw Wal-Mart, said Rachel Wall, senior manager of community affairs for the chain.

“All of our associates who were scheduled to come to work today are here, serving our customers," she said. "What is being shown outside is a stark difference from what we are seeing inside here today. We have gotten great feedback from our associates about holiday pay, about additional 25% discount, about availability of hours and promotional opportunities.”

She said that both Friday and Thursday were considered holidays and that holiday pay amounted to an additional day's pay.

Wal-Mart's corporate office released its own statement saying that "hardly any actual Wal-Mart associates" were participating in the day's protests.

“Black Friday is a big stage, and we’re one of the biggest players in the retail industry. We’re not surprised that those trying to change our industry are using this platform to get their message out, and we respect their right to be heard," spokesman David Tovar said. "We expect some demonstrations at our stores today, although far fewer than what our critics are claiming."

He said he also wanted to be "absolutely clear about our jobs, the pay and benefits we offer our associates."

"Wal-Mart provides wages on the higher end of the retail average with full-time and part-time associates making, on average, close to $12.00 an hour," he said. "The majority of our workforce is full-time, and our average full-time hourly pay is $12.81 an hour. We are also proud of the benefits we offer our associates, including affordable healthcare, performance-based bonuses, education benefits and access to a 401(k)."

Protesters were not appeased.

"It’s not fair that retailers like Wal-Mart made workers work on Thanksgiving," said Daniel Paredes, 27, a researcher with the L.A. Alliance for a New Economy. "Now workers don’t even have time with their families on Thanksgiving day.”

No arrests were made at the L.A. store because of the protests. In Ontario, 10 were arrested for blocking a street outside the store.

Pastor William D. Smart Jr. helped lead the Crenshaw protest program onstage by pumping up the crowd, introducing musicians and speakers.

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