SECAUCUS – As customers streamed in on Black Friday for early holiday shopping, a coalition of workers’ rights groups assembled to protest low wages, irregular schedules, and the treatment of workers at Wal-Mart in Secaucus. The demonstration was part of a national movement in solidarity with 1,000 strikes taking place at Wal-Mart stores across the country. The crowd was mixed with New Yorkers, Hudson and Bergen County residents.
Protesters held signs that read “Stop union busting at Wal-Mart” and chanted statements such as, “Bad for the workers, bad for the town – Wal-Mart pushes wages down,” while drums played in the background. The group chanted in front of the store before parading through the parking lot pushing shopping carts and ended up at the main street entrance to the store.
Secaucus police officers and the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office kept the protestors from blocking the main entrance to the store so that customers could continue to shop. Some customers joined in chanting as they walked by.
“This is a day we know is important to retailers,” said Stephanie Yazgi about the timing of the protest on Black Friday. Yazgi is an organizer with non-profit group Wal-mart Free NYC, a coalition of workers, New York residents, and community and business leaders. She said the coalition wanted to show support for Wal-Mart employees striking across the country and “show them that they are not alone.”
“The management at Wal-Mart claims they are one big family…how can you treat your brothers and sisters they way they do?” said Chuck Helms from the Hudson County Central Labor Council. He said the $8.50 an hour wage was not enough for someone to live on.
The demonstration was also to protest against the company’s retaliation against employees who have spoken up for their rights. Wal-Mart has filed a complaint against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union with the National Labor Relations Board, asking for a restraining order against the protests and demonstrations, saying they will disrupt business.
“It takes a lot of courage to strike because of the culture of fear,” said Yazgi.
One anonymous Secaucus resident who walked past the protestors pushing a baby stroller on her way to shopping at Wal-Mart said that while she understood the message of the demonstration she didn’t think it would have an effect on the retailer.
“I am buying at Wal-Mart because of the low prices,” she noted. “Wal-mart is a multi-billion company…for something big to happen you need big players.”
A number of the protestors, some of which were part of unions, said that Wal-Mart often sets the standard for other retailers and that if they changed their practices it would have a ripple effect on others.
Wal-mart management in Secaucus would not comment on the protest. – Adriana Rambay Fernandez