Protesters brave cold for vigil
Jose Garcia and Rebecca Maran, with the Service Employees International Union, at the Wal-Mart candlelight vigil last week.
Despite bone-chilling temperatures and freezing winds, nearly 30 protesters gathered for a candlelight vigil at a Northwestside Wal-Mart last Saturday. The gathering was part of a nationwide effort by the Wakeupwalmart.com campaign to draw attention to what they say are unethical business practices on Wal-Mart's part.
Jeff Kimbrough, of the United Food and Commercials union and a local organizer with Wakeupwalmart.com, said that some of the most egregious practices they were protesting involve Wal-Mart's low wages and insurance policies.
"They're essentially paying poverty wages," Kimbrough said. "Wal-Mart has 600,000 employees who have no insurance. And if they have no insurance, then they're on public aid, and that means the taxpayers are covering it."
The protest lasted an hour. It was 35 minutes before the first Wal-Mart representative came out to chastise them. "That took a while," Kimbrough remarked. "Most of the time the cops are already out here by now. But I contacted the police in advance and let them know what we were doing, and that we have a legal right to be here. The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that we can protest as long as we stay 15 feet away from the door and don't try to interfere with people going in."
Kimbrough said the campaign has had a strong effect: "Wal-Mart's profits have dropped 18 percent in the last seven months, since this campaign began."
When asked if she believes her organization's work had anything to do with this drop, Kimbrough said, "Absolutely. Whenever we do something, whether it's child labor or health insurance, Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's CEO, has to make a statement to stockholders about it. They've never had to do that before. They're on the defensive."
Near the end of the vigil, a Wal-Mart employee peeked out, looked around to be sure nobody was watching and gave the protesters a thumbs-up.
Wal-Mart, in its corporate statements, claims that the company provides insurance for more than 1 million people, and has helped 160,000 Americans leave the ranks of the uninsured. The corporation also notes that Wal-Mart's standard wages are slightly above the average in most urban areas. The statement takes particular aim at the United Food and Commercial Workers, whom Wal-Mart claims "want to further their own self-interest" and "engage in publicity stunts."
To learn more: The campaign against Wal-Mart: wakeupwalmart.com
Wal-Mart's responses to frequent criticisms: walmartfacts.com