Wal-Mart stores face closures over staff protests

America’s biggest retailer Wal-Mart is facing the prospect of possible store closures due to staff work stoppages over the upcoming Thanksgiving Day holiday.

Set to culminate on this week’s ‘Black Friday’ — the biggest shopping day in the US — the strikes, already seen at the company’s distribution warehouses in Southern California and Seattle, are part of a wider campaign of 1,000 protests planned for stores in Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Washington DC.

The workers, who are part of a union-backed employee coalition called ‘Making Change at Wal-Mart’ — are protesting low wages, increasing healthcare premiums, and alleged retaliation from management.

Wal-Mart, like many of the bigger retailers like Target and Sears, plans to open its stores at 8pm this Thursday, Thanksgiving night — a scheduling decision workers say they are not allowed to contest without fear of losing hours or being fired.

Another contentious issue is Wal-Mart’s plan to scale-back its contributions to workers’ healthcare premiums, which are expected to rise between 8% and 36%.

Sara Gilbert, a manager at one of the company’s Seattle stores, said: “I work full-time for one of the richest companies in the world, and my kids get state health insurance and are on food stamps.”

With 1.4 million workers, Wal-Mart is the US’ largest private employer, and has been targeted by unions in the past over low wages, meagre benefits, and a policy of retaliation against protesters.

Wal-Mart’s $16bn profits and top executive salaries of $10m have prompted community leaders to call on company chief executive, Rob Walton to address the wage gap the company is creating.

“Wal-Mart’s workers are dedicated to giving 100% to the jobs that they do,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Centre for Community Change.

“The company must be as dedicated to its workers as it is to its profit margin.”

Wal-Mart spokesman, Kory Lundberg said the strike was “just another exaggerated publicity campaign aimed at generating headlines to mislead” the retailer’s customers and employees.

He added: “The fact is, these ongoing tactics are unlawful and we will act to protect our associates and customers from this ongoing illegal conduct.”

With the protests scheduled to upset the busiest shopping period of the year, goodwill is currently at a premium between management and employees.

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