The latest news in the Walmart labor protests -- which have included walkouts and marches in Dallas, San Diego, Chicago and Los Angeles -- is the threat of a strike on Black Friday. That's the day after Thanksgiving, widely considered the busiest, and most lucrative, retail day of the year.
Some 200 angry protesters showed up at a meeting of investors and analysts earlier Wednesday at Walmart's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. Under discussion at the meeting was Walmart's intent to go head-to-head with Amazon and offer same-day delivery.
Walmart is the world's largest private employer and has long been a target of workers' rights groups, who advocate higher wages, more flexibility in hours and an end to the punishments (reduced shifts, for instance) they claim are meted out to workers seeking to unionize.
Evelin Cruz, a department manager at Walmart in Pico Rivera, Calif., told ABC News that for many years she kept quiet about what she views as the company's unjust labor practices because she feared she would be fired if she spoke up.
"People were really tired that any time they would speak out against the pay, hours, how much they would work, that management would cut their hours or not give them a schedule," said Cruz, who is one of thousands of members of Our Walmart, a labor organization backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers that defends Walmart workers' rights.
On a conference call Wednesday, leaders of Our Walmart, the National Consumers League and other labor groups said they will join Walmart workers outside stores on Black Friday if their demands are not met.NOW president Terry O'Neill said her organization would join in the action on Black Friday, it was reported in the Guardian. "We are standing in solidarity with the workers who are walking off the job," said the National Organization of Women's president.
Last Thursday, about 30 employees from the Pico Rivera store, including Cruz, wielded signs that read "Stand Up, Live Better, Stop Retaliation" and "Stop Trying to Silence Us" and marched outside the store. At the same time, workers at eight other Walmart stores in California protested working conditions and treatment.
It was the first-ever employee walk-out in the company's 50-year history, said Dawn Le, a spokeswoman for Making Change at Walmart, a coalition whose mission is to change the way Walmart conducts business.
"Everyone else has a union," said Le. "Workers in every other country -- Japan, the U.K., Nicaragua, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina -- have been able to form a union, except the U.S. and Canada. We just don't understand the double standard Walmart has. How come those in other countries get to have a voice, yet not in the U.S., its home country?"
Walmart spokesman Dan Fogleman disputed Le's charges, claiming that most employees have "repeatedly rejected unionization.
"They seem to recognize that Walmart has some of the best jobs in the retail industry -- good pay, affordable benefits and the chance for advancement," he said in a telephone interview with ABC News.
Walmart and its practices have made the news a lot lately. In mid-September, warehouse workers in Southern California were on a 15-day strike that included a six-day, 50-mile pilgrimage for safe jobs. Around the same time, hundreds of people marched in Dallas and San Diego, demanding better work conditions.
On Monday, Chicago police dressed in riot gear arrested 17 peaceful protesters blocking the entrance to a warehouse operated by an outside contractor that supplies Walmart stores, in Elwood, Ill. The protestors were there to show support for workers who had been on strike since Sept. 15, the Chicago Sun Times reported. What's more, the company faces yet another sex discrimination lawsuit, filed on behalf of 100,000 women in California and Tennessee.
According to Dan Schlademan, director of Making Change at Walmart, Walmart employees across the U.S. have recently filed more than 20 charges of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board. "Workers find how Walmart has tried to retaliate by cutting their hours and not scheduling them for certain shifts when they tried to speak out, and they're tired of it," he said.
But the $16 billion company sees it differently, arguing that the California rally was simply a "publicity stunt by the UFCW to seek media attention in order to further their political agenda and financial objectives," said Fogleman.Cruz, who makes $13.20 an hour -- up from $7.40 when she started - begs to differ. "We just wanted to be treated like humans, not robots. We do have health insurance, but in most cases, you're not even making enough to live on, let alone take anyone to the hospital." And though she worries about losing her job, she didn't see another option but to voice her anger.
"We are still worried that they might retaliate," said Cruz. "We know exactly how they operate. They wait until you feel confident, or put down your guard, and then they come after you one way or another. But that's how tired we are of what's going on in the stores."