Social activists demonstrated outside a Walmart in Cheektowaga Friday to call attention to claims about the retailer’s labor and supplier practices.
But Walmart said the absence of Walmart employees from the group of protesters indicates the retailer’s workers do not share those complaints.
Members of the Coalition for Economic Justice, the United Food and Commercial Workers union, the Western New York Area Labor Federation and Buffalo First participated, talking to customers and handing out fliers, said Andy Reynolds, the Coalition’s communications organizer.
Reynolds said demonstrators wanted to “stand in solidarity” with Walmart workers, calling for higher wages and better benefits at U.S. stores, and drawing attention to a garment factory fire last month in Bangladesh that killed 112 workers.
The factory was found to have been supplying products sold in Walmart stores. Walmart said a supplier subcontracted the work to that factory without the retailer’s authorization.
Critics have said Walmart blocked efforts to upgrade fire-protection systems at factories like the one in Bangladesh; Walmart has denied those claims and says it advocated for safety improvements.
Walmart stores around the country have been the target of protests during the Christmas shopping season, notably on high-profile Black Friday. Walmart has challenged the protests by saying very few of the participants were its employees, and that their absence should call into question the source of complaints about Walmart’s wages and working conditions.
Reynolds confirmed there were no Walmart employees among the demonstrators on Friday; he said the purpose was to show support for Walmart workers nationally and internationally.
“There is a good number of [Walmart] workers who are out demanding change from Walmart,” he said. Reynolds also contended more workers would participate in the demonstrations but are fearful of retaliation and losing their jobs.
Kory Lundberg, a Walmart spokesman, disagreed with those claims, saying Walmart does not retaliate against employees for speaking out, and its workers have a high rate of job satisfaction, based on results of internal confidential surveys.
Of the protest, Lundberg said: “It assumes our associates don’t know what’s best for their lives and families.” Lundberg said he believes the UFCW is targeting Walmart in a bid to unionize its workforce.