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Black Friday strikes call attention to employee rights

Those who ventured out shopping in the early morning hours today, or late night hours Thursday, may have run into a picket line or protest at their local Walmart. In fact, even people in Milwaukee who opted to stay at home and skip the Black Friday frenzy may have received wind about the scattered strikes and demonstrations outside of the some of the big box retailer's stores. It has now been reported that the protests did not affect Walmart's bottom line much, however the media coverage of the events has shined a spotlight on several employment law issues.

While many people think the protests, organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, were intended to disrupt Walmart's business and take a stand against retailers being open for business on Thanksgiving, they were actually designed to spread awareness about what activists say are violations of employee rights.

Key employment issues motivating demonstrators include alleged retaliation against workers who complain about unsafe and unfair working conditions and wage and overtime violations. According to a USA Today report, workers have explained that complaints about low pay and poor working conditions have results in suspensions, threats and terminations.

OUR Walmart, a group that is backed by the UFCW, said that about 1,000 protests were held between Thursday and Friday in 46 states, including here in Wisconsin. Walmart has said that the numbers are smaller.

While the protests reportedly did not phase business--the company has stated it had its best Black Friday ever--they did spark national media coverage. Regardless of one's feelings toward Walmart, this should be a reminder to workers here in Wisconsin that they have federal- and state-protected employment rights. These include general rights to work in an environment free of sexual harassment, certain types of discrimination, hostility and hazards. They also include rights to certain wages and overtime. And when a worker does file an employment law complaint, the employer may not retaliate against that person. Workers who have their rights violated may seek legal recourse to hold their employers accountable.

Source: Wisconsin Rapids Tribune, "Scattered Walmart protests don't dent bottom line," Doug Stanglin and Michael Winter, Nov. 23, 2012

  • Our Wisconsin law firm assists workers with a variety of employment law concerns. More information is available on our website, including details about laws against retaliation.

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