Today is Black Friday and retail giant Walmart is again dealing with a series of protests and worker strikes over the company’s unwillingness to provide its workers a living wage and benefits. This year the protests are paralleled by a week long drive to get Walmart workers food for the holidays under the banner of “Give Back Friday.”
Though the protests and strikes, initially spearheaded by a group called OUR Walmart, have been lawful and by all reports reasonable, Walmart management has responded by launching a massive spying operation on Walmart workers.
According to a report from Bloomberg News, the 2012 Black Friday protests against Walmart led company executives to contact the FBI and begin a new worker surveillance program with assistance from Lockheed Martin. The program focused on workers who discussed union activity or had contact with OUR Walmart.
So while Walmart dismissed the OUR Walmart and Fight for 15 campaigns in public as no big deal, in private the company put workers under surveillance around the country with orders that any intelligence gathered be sent to Walmart’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas for further analysis and possible action.
Bloomberg details some of the reports sent back to Walmart headquarters:
2:30 p.m., Store 5880 in Fairfax, Va.: “A customer began talking to a cashier about the strikes at Walmart this week, and the cashier responded that maybe she should go on strike. AM [assistant manager] feels the cashier was joking when she made the comment.”
4:19 p.m., Store 3893 in Zion, Ill.: “Three associates made comments surrounding the ‘strikes’ in other stores to Grocery ZMS [zone merchandising supervisor]. Grocery ZMS shared his opinion but didn’t state our philosophy. He will do so the next time the associates are at work.”
The last call in the log, on Oct. 15, came from Yuma, Ariz.: “An associate asked what would happen to associates if they walked out on Black Friday.”
The company also had specific employees watched both on the job as well as on social media. Any actions or comments made that seemed to show sympathy with the protests were cataloged and sent to Walmart headquarters. Some of those employees claim they were retaliated against which is where much of the information from the Bloomberg story comes from.
In 2013, OUR Walmart and the former Walmart workers who claim to have suffered retaliation for protesting for better wages and benefits filed a case with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Documents detailing Walmart’s spying program were revealed as part of the discovery process for the case.
Walmart does not deny that it had/has a worker surveillance program and responded to the revelations by telling Bloomberg “We are firmly committed to the safety and security of our 2.2 million associates as well as the 260 million customers we serve each week. It’s important to remember that Walmart is the largest company in the world with 11,500 stores in 28 countries. Unfortunately, there are occasions when outside groups attempt to deliberately disrupt our business and on behalf of our customers and associates we take action accordingly.”
Yes, you read that right. Walmart’s response to their workers (“associates”) wanting a living wage and benefits is to spy and retaliate on them and then claim to be acting on their behalf. Looks like the protests won’t be ending anytime soon.