Wal-Mart workers and their supporters marched in protest at stores across the U.S. as the Thanksgiving holiday turned into the feverish start of Christmas shopping season, angry at the wages, benefits and treatment of employees at the world's largest retailer.
The efforts seemed to do little to keep shoppers away. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it was its best day-after-Thanksgiving ever.
In Paramount, California, authorities arrested nine people, including three Wal-Mart employees, for blocking a busy street outside a store. Sheriff's Capt. Mike Parker said they were cited and released on misdemeanor charges.
At its height, authorities said, the protest drew about 1,000 people.
“A lot more people showed up than I anticipated, but that just shows you the kind of support we have,'' said Wal-Mart employee Carlton Smith, who added he was one of 19 store employees taking part.
“We have a common interest in making this great company better.''
Wal-Mart for many years has faced intense scrutiny over its wage and benefit policies and treatment of its workers. Fogleman said the company provides some of the best jobs in the retail industry and that its wages and benefits typically meet or exceed those of competitors.
The company operates 10,400 stores in 27 countries.
In Lakewood, Colorado, shoppers hesitated as they passed dozens of protesters outside a Wal-Mart but entered without incident. Some protesters held signs accusing the company of corporate greed and underpaying its workers.
“This is the way you get a fair shake. You've got to fight for it. You've always had to,'' said protester Charlie May, of the Industrial Workers of the World labor organization.
A union-backed group called OUR Walmart has said it was holding an estimated 1,000 protests in 46 states and estimated that “hundreds'' of employees participated nationwide. Wal-Mart has said the figure was grossly exaggerated.
OUR Walmart, made up of current and former Wal-Mart employees, was formed in 2010 to press the company for better working conditions.
Wal-Mart said roughly 50 employees participated in the events Thursday and a “few dozen'' took part Friday. Company spokesman Dan Fogleman said the number of associates who missed their shifts Thursday and Friday was 60 percent lower than last year.
“It was proven last night – and again today – that the OUR Walmart group doesn't speak for the 1.3 million Wal-Mart associates,'' the company said in a statement.
The retailer filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board last week against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, saying the demonstrations organized by OUR Walmart threatened to disrupt business and intimidate customers and associates.
Employee Victoria Martinez, 29, marched in front of the Paramount store on Friday. She worked her shift on Thanksgiving but skipped work Friday to “speak out.'' She said the company shows a lack of respect for employees, noting that she faced retaliation by local managers after speaking out about problems during an open discussion sponsored by the head office.
“I believe that when I started at this company, it was great,'' said Martinez, who has worked for Wal-Mart for seven years. “They've taken away everything that is great.''