Amid the hustle and bustle of Black Friday shoppers, hundreds of angry protesters blasted the Walmart chain near its Harmon Meadow Shopping Center store yesterday, pushing for higher wages and better labor conditions. Thirteen of them ended up in handcuffs.
The protest, led by 35-year-old Maritza Silva-Farrel of Brooklyn, senior organizer of the Alliance for a Greater New York, was part of a nationwide series of protests.
“Walmart workers requested this because they feel like they don’t have the freedom to speak out and they’re afraid of getting fired,” she said.
Police kept the protesters away from the store itself, so the protest took place next door, in front of the LA Fitness gym.
According to Mayor Michael Gonnelli, the protesters who were arrested were charged with blocking traffic.
“I’m here to support the workers who can’t be here today because they make so little that even to protest and speak up is frightening,” Priscilla Grim, of Brooklyn, 39, and a representative of the Occupy Solidarity Network, said before being hauled away by police.
An emotional Elaine Rozier, 51, from Miami, spoke of hardships she faced as a Walmart employee for eight years.
“I’ve had six surgeries so far from working at Walmart, lifting 25, 50 pounds of freight, and I went on strike in June,” she said, crying. “I was bullied, I was mistreated.”
Marc Bowers, 33, a Lancaster, Texas native and former Walmart employee, said he was fired illegally for expressing his frustrations with the labor conditions.
“I had bills to pay and rent and the money was never enough,” he said.
William C. Wertz, East Coast director of communications for Walmart, said many of the protesters’ criticisms weren’t accurate.
“I would encourage them to get to know Walmart better,” he said. “For the most part, part-time workers are eligible for bonuses and health insurance depending on the store’s needs.”
Some of the community labor organizations represented at the protest included the Walmart Free NYC coalition, the Alliance for a Greater New York, Brandworkers, Families United for Racial & Economic Equality and the Food Chain Workers Alliance.
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