On the Eastside of Indianapolis, in the parking lot of a Kroger at 10450 E. Washington St., driving sleet filled the air and the temperature was below 40. Nonetheless, Jennifer Ison was still smiling, almost euphoric, near the end of the Nov. 21 protest organized by the People"s Campaign for Justice @ Wal-Mart.
Rian Wathen of UCFW Local 700 explains the union"s position after a protest against Wal-Mart on the Eastside.
"This was my first time out!" she told Rian Wathen happily. "First walk? You"re a virgin?" he replied. "That"s great! And there"s going to be a lot more like this coming up. This is just the kickoff." Wathen and Ison were only two of more than 60 who braved the freezing rain and unexpected cold at the afternoon event. Some huddled under umbrellas and others held up signs of protest; all wore matching bright yellow vests. They began at 3 p.m. with a cookout in the parking lot of Kroger, across the street from Wal-Mart, continued with a short rally and ended with a protest in front of Wal-Mart before streaming back to the parking lot. "We tried to get management to sign a code of conduct, but they said there was nobody who could talk to us," grumbled one of the first to arrive back. "Nobody in charge, huh?" sighed another. Wathen, the organizing director of United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 700, explained that the protest had a dual message. "We want people to be aware of what"s going on," Wathen said. "Wal-Mart is the biggest corporation in America. They"re one of the biggest corporations in the world. Their income is larger than the gross domestic product of 155 out of 192 nations. With that comes a responsibility, and they"re not living up to their responsibility. Not to their workers, and not to the public. We"re also sending a message to the Wal-Mart workers: When they"ve had enough and they want to unionize, we"ll be there with them." The event was part of a nationwide day of action, bringing together a coalition of groups for protests at Wal-Marts across the nation, six in Indiana. According to Wathen and materials provided by the coalition, their primary issues with Wal-Mart are that the company does not provide competitive living wages and benefits or engage in fair business practices; it engages in anti-union activity and unfair business practices; and lowers the standard of living for Americans. The coalition characterizes it as a "war on workers." "In this age of globalization, if we allow them to set the standards for wages and benefits, pretty soon there will BE no middle class," Wathen said. "Somebody"s got to stand up and say, "We"re not going to take it."" Cynthia Illick, a spokesperson for Wal-Mart, denied the allegations and suggested that the public protests were due to the failure of the unions to win support among the company"s associates. "They"ve been attempting to unionize our associates for years and have been unsuccessful, so now they"re attempting to discredit Wal-Mart with the public," Illick said. "Our associates do not want to be represented by a third party. We have a profit-sharing arrangement with our associates that allows them a stake in the company and the decision making. What the union is proposing is to get between this relationship and charge them dues to do so Ö We are not anti-union. There are many people who are very proud to work at Wal-Mart. People choose to work at Wal-Mart, just as people choose to shop at Wal-Mart."