A lone Walmart employee and more than a dozen members of the Baton Rouge and New Orleans chapters of the Occupy movement staged a protest this morning outside of the retailer’s Baker store on Plank Road.
The 45-minute protest, which started at 6 a.m. just outside the front door, was part of the national Making Change at Walmart campaign against the retail giant. The group claims The Bentonville, Ark., company underpays employees, understaffs stores and retaliates against workers who speak out.
Janet Sparks, a customer service manager at the Baker store, was the only local Walmart employee to take part in the protest, which included signs and chants including, “They say rollback, we say fight back” and “Hey hey, ho ho, retaliation has got to go.”
Sparks said she has worked at the Baker Walmart for three years and led a similar protest this spring. She said other employees expressed interest in joining the protest but backed out. She said that while her protest is protected speech, she wasn’t sure whether her decision to picket her employer would get her laid off or her hours cut.
Sparks said she was protesting to let employees, customers and investors know that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. can be a better corporate citizen and employer if it would provide workers with better pay and benefits and staff its stores better.
Sparks, who makes about $12 an hour, said she enjoys her job, but thinks workplace policies Wal-Mart began enacting in 2006 have hurt employees at the expense of shareholders and ownership.
“I truly believe the company can afford to pay us better,” she said.
The national campaign was timed to coincide with Black Friday, but Sparks said the issues she was protesting are ongoing. The parking lot was mostly empty this morning. Walmart’s doorbuster sales were held Thursday night at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. and this morning at 5 a.m., an hour before the protest started.