Area politicians join Black Friday protest at Hadley Wal-Mart



Last modified: Friday, December 06, 2013

HADLEY — About 150 people massed outside the Wal-Mart store in Hadley Friday afternoon to protest the company’s labor practices and support the employees inside.

The hour-long protest was part of a nationwide campaign on Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

Protesters claimed Wal-Mart provides inadequate wages and benefits, unfairly schedules employees’ hours and discourages protests and strikes.

A Wal-Mart representative, however, said claims about its treatment of workers are inaccurate.

State Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, who spoke briefly at the protest, warned that stores like Wal-Mart — which provide a number of different services under one roof — squeeze out smaller, local businesses that provide the same services.

Story said when people use Wal-Mart for all their needs, like auto repair, groceries and hairstyling, they do so to the detriment of locally owned businesses that can’t provide the same discounts larger stores can because they don’t operate on the same scale.

Northampton Ward 4 City Councilor Pamela Schwartz told the crowd that Wal-Mart’s labor practices are a large-scale issue being addressed locally.

“We are a microcosm of what’s happening all around the country,” she said.

In a telephone interview Friday, William Wertz, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said Wal-Mart offers competitive pay and benefits to its full-time and part-time employees and makes a practice of promoting from within.

Wertz said there were 160,000 promotions within Wal-Mart last year and 75 percent of store managers, including newly elected CEO Doug McMillon, began their careers as hourly wage associates.

“We’re not the example these people claim we are,” Wertz said.

Jon Weisman, of the Massachusetts chapter of Jobs for Justice, said because Wal-Mart is one of the most powerful retailers in the country, if its business practices can be changed, other companies will likely follow suit.

“If you can change Wal-Mart, you can change the country,” he said.

Many of those who attended carried signs with slogans like “Stop corporate greed” and “Standing up for our country.” Others booed and hissed at each mention of Wal-Mart. Several drivers passing by the crowd in front of the store honked horns in apparent support.

The Raging Grannies led the crowd in several anti-corporation and anti-Wal-Mart songs.

The protest began at 3 p.m. and ended an hour later as Wal-Mart employees Kerry Brown and Ryan Little, who had been outside with the protesters, entered the store for their afternoon shift to cheers and applause from the crowd.

It wasn’t apparent if the group gathered near one of the entrances had any detrimental effect on the shopping inside. There were long lines at several registers about 3:15 p.m.

Wertz said that despite the organized protests, Wal-Mart was on track to have a “very successful” post-Thanksgiving sales event, perhaps the “best” Black Friday ever.

Jeff Schurke, a graduate student at the UMass Labor Center who helped organize the event, said the crowd was larger than he expected.

Schurke said while there are several issues that people take Wal-Mart to task for including low wages and a lack of benefits, the focus of Friday’s event was how Wal-Mart treats its workers, he said.

According to a Nov. 18 New York Times article, Wal-Mart was found to have improperly disciplined and, in some cases, fired employees over participating in strikes and protests.

“Workers have a right to say they want to have better hours and better pay,” Schurke said.

According to CNN, on Friday, 10 people were arrested at a Wal-Mart protest in Ontario, Calif., after allegedly blocking an intersection and another 10 were cited in Chicago for blocking a roadway.

There were several members of the Hadley Police Department on hand to monitor the crowd Friday and keep people out of the fire lane in front of the store. No arrests were made.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.








 


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