Quiet protest at Berlin Wal-Mart
By David Taube
STAFF WRITER | November 24,2012
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
A shopper wheels her purchase past a small crowd of protesters outside Walmart in Berlin on Friday.
BERLIN — Protesters with Occupy Central Vermont handed out leaflets Friday outside Walmart, advocating for an array of labor and market changes including better wages for employees at the store.
Nationwide, protests outside Walmart stores decried a 34-hour workweek that limits full-time benefits, a flexible shift that discourages those who have full-time employment, and alleged retaliation by the company against employees seeking changes, according to the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union.
However, several Walmart workers in Berlin said they had no plans to protest or quit their jobs. One worker who picked up a leaflet said she was happy with her job.
Protester Jay Moore, a Marshfield resident and adjunct instructor in history at the University of Vermont and elsewhere, said his Occupy group was not aware of any labor unions forming due to the protest movement, but he suggested local protests on behalf of Walmart workers could change that.
“As far as we know, there’s no organizing in Vermont,” he said. “But maybe it could lay the groundwork.”
Walmart’s media relations staff did not immediately return a call requesting comment. Westford resident Tina Scanlon, who was passing through on her way to Massachusetts, participated in the protest by holding a sign. She suggested the Black Friday deals adversely affect workers.
“The entire concept is totally wrong,” she said. “The prices are extremely low so that they can pay workers even less.”
Bill Simon, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. U.S. president and chief executive officer, issued a statement Friday downplaying the events.
“Only 26 protests occurred at stores last night, and many of them did not include any Walmart associates,” Simon said. “We estimate that less than 50 associates participated in the protest nationwide.”
A blog for The Nation reported early Friday that strikes were occurring in six states.
Earlier this week, Montpelier resident Marie Countryman and two others associated with Occupy Central Vermont put leaflets on vehicles in anticipation of the Black Friday protest, she said.
Countryman said people who identified themselves as mall security warned them to stop. Police later came, and the group left, she said.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Department permitted the group to protest on a sidewalk near the entrance, said Deputy Sheriff Bryan Brown on Friday morning from his post outside the store but inside the mall. Many of the protesters outside distributed fliers about Walmart workers to customers going in and out of the store.
“Many labor struggles are won with community support,” said Matthew Andrews, a Plainfield resident and school bus driver involved with the Teamsters union. “If people are willing to take a flier, I consider that a victory.”