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Protesters target Walmart in suburban Detroit

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Protesters called for higher wages and better working conditions for Walmart employees at stores around the country Friday, including one store in suburban Detroit.

Store managers and security met the protesters as they marched to the entrance to the Sterling Heights Walmart.

They were blocked from going in—but did hand over petitions protesting Walmart’s treatment of its workers. Police also arrived, but the protesters left peacefully.

The protest was part of what labor advocates call a “growing movement” against the world’s largest retailer—and a larger effort to protest growing economic inequality.

Protester Jerry Young, a unionized employee at a nearby Kroger store, says Walmart needs to share more of its annual $17 billion annual profit with employees.

“They should spread some of that wealth around, and share it with their workers,” says Young. “They can afford to do it. They can afford to be good corporate citizens.”

The protest drew some notables from the labor movement, including Service Employees International President Mary Kay Henry.

“Do we agree that Walmart can afford to pay more to their workers?” Henry rallied the crowd of protesters, which responded with a resounding “Yes!” “And are we going to stand beside these workers until they win?”

Protesters also called for a higher minimum wage, and for Walmart to respect the right of its workers to unionize.

In a statement addressing the Black Friday protests, Walmart defended its labor practices, calling itself a business that fosters “career growth” and “greater economic security for families.”

“Walmart provides wages on the higher end of the retail average with full-time and part-time associates making, on average, close to $12.00 an hour,” the statement reads. “The majority of our workforce is full-time, and our average full-timehourly pay is $12.81 an hour.”

Labor groups like the Michigan AFL-CIO put a different spin on the numbers. They point to data that show 825,000 Walmart’s roughly 1.4 million “associates” make less than $25,000 a year, “trapping them and their families in a state of economic insecurity.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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