Vanaski: Protesters won’t be thanking Wal-Mart
Elaine Kuhar has plans for the day after Thanksgiving. And you’d better believe it involves Wal-Mart.
But she won’t be competing for that last “Frozen” Princess Elsa doll. She’ll be outside the Wal-Mart in North Fayette, protesting the store’s treatment of its workers.
Kuhar, who is hoping for about 100 people to join her on Black Friday, is part of a national effort to protest a major retail chain on what is likely the busiest shopping day of the year. It might not sound like the best idea to get in the way of a shopper stampede, but on the other hand, what better way to get out the message?
Kuhar, an organizer for OURWalmart who lives in Indiana, Pa., told me the group started a few years ago to end what it calls retaliation against workers who complain about working conditions and to secure a $15 hourly minimum wage.
“We want to affect change for the service industry,” Kuhar, who has never worked at Wal-Mart, told me. “It’s not just about money — it’s about respect and treatment.”
Unlike the shopping hours for most retail stores, this protest is to start at a more reasonable time of about 11 a.m. Demonstrators plan to use social media to mobilize.
Kory Lundberg, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, said this is the third year of Black Friday protests for this group, and usually turnout is not as advertised. One key set of people who often don’t take part, he said, are Wal-Mart employees.
“They understand they’ve got a pretty good job at Wal-Mart,” Lundberg said, adding that there is plenty of opportunity for advancement.
Unfair labor practice complaints have been filed against the retail chain, he said, but the National Labor Relations Board has never ruled that Wal-Mart violated rules regarding retaliation against employees.
Kuhar said it’s not fair that executives of large retail companies enjoy big yearly pay raises while many workers struggle. However, critics of such so-called “minimum living wage” protests question how much retailers can afford to pay cashiers, stockers and other personnel and stay in business.
No matter where you stand on the dispute, it’s one that could be noticeable at Wal-Mart stores on Thursday and on Black Friday. Kuhar said informational protesters won’t block doors but hope “shoppers will at least listen to us.”
That Wal-Mart employees have to work on Thanksgiving is a sticking point with some employees, Kuhar said. But she acknowledged that other employees appreciate the extra holiday work money.
“Me personally, I would say it is unnecessary to open,” she said.
She probably shouldn’t say that too loud in front of any large crowds Friday.