Gary Strauss, USA TODAY
Wal-Mart workers and supporters launched protests in at least 15 cities Thursday, urging the world's largest retailer provide higher wages, better jobs and the right to unionize.
OUR Wal-Mart, a coalition including Wal-Mart workers, community organizers and the United Food & Commercial Workers organized day-long protests, urging Wal-Mart to pay full-time wages of $25,000 a year, or $12 an hour. It says many of Wal-Mart's 1.3 million associates are part-time employees averaging just $8.80 an hour.
The Wal-Mart protests - which follow last week's broader, widespread strikes among fast-food industry workers seeking $15 an hour wages from fast food chains - were scheduled for Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Seattle, Chicago, Denver, Boston, Orlando, Minneapolis and Washington D.C., where Wal-Mart is threatening to cut expansion if it's required to pay a city mandated "living wage" of at least $12.50 an hour.
At least three current or former Wal-Mart employees were arrested in New York City Thursday morning for disorderly conduct as they attempted to deliver a petition to the office of Wal-Mart director Chris Williams. The independent board member is CEO of New York-based investment bank Williams Capital Management Trust. About three dozen protesters, some wearing green shirts with OUR Wal-Mart stenciled on them, participated in the rally.
Protesters also planned to rally outside of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's San Francisco apartment building. Mayer was appointed to Wal-Mart's board of directors in 2012.
Wal-Mart spokesperson Brooke Buchanan said the protests were having little impact on its 4,600 U.S. stores.
"What we're seeing is a lot of union activists and professional protesters - not a lot of Wal-Mart associates,'' Buchanan said. "We've got 1.3 million (employees) in the U.S. and this is a very small group which doesn't represent the vast majority of associates who work for Wal-Mart.''
Wal-Mart workers have staged protests before, including a Black Friday walk-out on Nov. 23.
"This is another stunt to garner attention,'' Buchanan said. "It's the same old cast members trying to get some attention for their cause."
The coalition says many part-time Wal-Mart employees barely make more than the federal $7.25 hourly minimum wage. But Buchanan said the company's full-time associates average about $12.80. Over 60% of the company's 1 million associates are full-time, she said. The company has another 300,000 managers who earn $50,000 to $170,000 a year, according to Wal-Mart's corporate website. Most began as hourly employees.
According to its latest proxy, Wal-Mart CEO Michael Duke earned nearly $20 million in 2012, including pay, stock awards and incentives. That works out to about $9,600 an hour.
Duke gained another $21.4 million from exercising previously awarded stock options and vested shares.