Black Friday Protest at Edison Walmart Draws People From Various Backgrounds, But No Walmart Workers

EDISON, NJ–A Walmart Market Manager, who travels to a variety of different stores, said the gathering of protesters standing outside the South Edison Walmart on Friday morning holding signs such as “Low Low Pay – Just Not OK” or chanting “Go to Costco, don’t shop at Walmart” was just an organization that would like to disrupt everyone’s shopping day.

But outside, demonstrating on a cold fall morning, the group was not made up of any one organization.

Instead, it included a Rutgers University Labor Relations Professor, two members of local Teamsters Union #877, a Rutgers grad student representing United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), a member of the Communication Workers of America Union (CWA), a member of the National Organization For Woman (NOW), and assorted others – but no Walmart employees.

Janice Fine has been a Labor Relations Professor at Rutgers University for the last 10 years. Her own union is the American Federation of Teachers. She told NBToday why she was at the protest.

"I think that it’s really important to show up on black Friday to say that I’m a unionized professor.  I want to support dignity for workers who are not being paid the minimum wage, who can’t have predictable hours for their families, who don’t make enough money not to have to rely on food pantries and food stamps very frequently," said Fine.

"And rather than being out shopping, I want to be out in solidarity with low wage workers, and I think that’s part of what I try to teach my students."

Union leader Hetty Rosenstein, whose CWA represents 70,000 workers in the state,  was encouraging customers to shop at the nearby Costco.

"Because Costco, in fact, pays a living wage and Costco has a union and they still make huge profits and the line is that if you pay people a living wage somehow they won’t be able to hire people. But we know that Costco hires many people.  They pay them more, they make a huge profit and in fact they can do that, so it’s all a big lie.”

According to one of the protesters, the group was asked by both Walmart security guards and two Edison Township Police officers, in a sympathetic and very polite way by them all, not to be directly in front of the store, or its customer entrance.

The protestor said that the police made a very big point of saying that they were union members themselves, adding that they were responding to Walmart’s complaint that the group should not be directly in front of the store’s entrance.

Eventually, the protesters were on the sidewalk, toward Route 27, where some cars were pulling in to park. The store was not particularly busy despite it being 9:15 a.m. on “Black Friday.”

Wal-mart denied their workers would be punished for participating in the protest.

“Absolutely not, no, nope absolutely not, our workers are welcome to participate but they choose not to – absolutely, absolutely,” said the manager.

But Edison resident, and local Teamster #877, Doc Doherty, who found out about the protest online, does not agree that all workers are free to participate without ramifications.

“They’d be fired, they can’t fight for themselves, they need the jobs that’s why they work here [at Walmart] for less than $10 per hour. [They work] for $8 or $9 per hour and they work as many hours as they can, but they won’t allow them to work more than 35 hours.” 

Doherty said that the Walton’s refuse to pay their people a living wage. Expressing anger, he said: "The Walton’s are in my pockets. The Walton’s are in all of our pockets. The Walton’s are the richest family in the world and the biggest – world’s largest retailer.”

Doherty explained what brought him to the protest, and spoke about the changes to the area surrounding the Edison Walmart store since it opened

“The Walmartization of America is really what got me here and keeps me involved. Them bringing so much cheap Chinese crap into this country – driving so much manufacturing out of this country. Right here, along this stretch. This used to be known as the miracle mile.”
He pointed to the new Pet Smart, a couple of football fields away from the Walmart.

“Right where that Pet Smart is, Westinghouse had a manufacturing facility.” Then he gestured toward Route 27.

"That empty building over there – that was Revlon. There was industry up and down this Miracle Mile, until Walmart led the way to teach companies how to go to China and provide them cheaper products," Doherty continued. 

"So here we are today: A dying middle class that Walmart is at the heart of – Walmart is right at the heart of. And all we are looking for today is the living wage for the people who work here. And access to organize a union would be nice," he said.

"It’s the labor movement, we have to stick together, The middle class is dying because of corporate thugs like Walmart, and the rest of us have to get together and try to protect the middle class – grow the middle class. The middle class is shrinking."

Dave is an award-winning business reporter who has authored over 200 articles for New Brunswick Today.