The “Black Friday” madness may have been over late Friday morning at the Walmart on Tchoupitoulas — the parking lot was less full than on an average weekend evening — but a line of a different sort formed around 11 a.m.: several dozen protesters shouting their disapproval of the retail behemoth’s employment practices.
“They say ‘Rollback,'” the protesters cried. “We say ‘Fight back!'”
Friday’s protest was part of a national effort that included walkouts by store employees across the country. The New Orleans event was put together in part by the Service Employees International Union Local 21LA, not as an attempt to organize Walmart workers, but simply to show support for them, said chapter spokeswoman Jewel Bush. Walmart is the largest private employer in the nation with more than a million workers, but its practices encourage a “race to the bottom” in American wages, said union chapter president Helene O’Brien.
“We came out to make sure the workers know they’re not alone and that we support them,” O’Brien said.
At its peak, about 35 people stood behind a banner about “The Real Wally World,” their chants drawing chuckles from passing Walmart employees, as other protesters passed out flyers to passing shoppers and drivers. One Walmart greeter declined to take a protester’s flyer, saying he was already “retired,” but two other women took the pamphlet from a protester who urged them to share it with their associates.
After a little while, the Rev. Jim VanderWeele of Community Church Unitarian Universalist of Lakeview addressed the crowd briefly, and then produced a letter outlining concerns about Walmart to present to the store management. The group marched inside, but a manager met the protestors at the entrance, and asked them to walk outside to talk so that shoppers could get in unimpeded. Back outside, she spoke for a moment with VanderWeele, thanked him for the letter and promised to convey the group’s concerns to her supervisors.
As Uptown resident Roxanne Jones wheeled a cart with small kitchen appliances into the parking lot, she took a flyer from a protestor and began reading it. She thought she recognized an employee in the photo on the flyer, she said, but wasn’t aware of the labor allegations against the store.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” she said. “Walmart is making me want to bring this stuff back in there.”
Instead, she headed on out to her car, saying that she needed to show the flyer to her daughter.