Walmart workers among demonstrators at Lynnwood store

LYNNWOOD — About a dozen Walmart workers and about 50 labor supporters marched outside the company’s store here Wednesday, demanding better pay, hours and benefits for hourly employees.

The demonstration was one of several organized by the advocacy group OUR Walmart around the country ahead of the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Friday.

“I’m here for a better workplace, better conditions, better pay, better benefits, so we know we can take care of our families,” said Charles Wolford, 30.

He has worked for the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company for 10 years, now at the Lynnwood store as an overnight stocker.

“I’m not really a controversial guy, I like my quiet life,” Wolford said.

But working conditions at Walmart — pay, employee policies and safety — have declined in recent years, he said. “I’m at a point now where I can no longer tolerate it.”

So Wolford joined OUR Walmart.

Thousands of Walmart workers have joined the independent group, which has won some minor victories since it was formed in 2011. The group has called for more steady scheduling and minimum annual income of $25,000 for full-time sales associates.

It is supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), but it is not a union-organizing campaign.

The UFCW has tried that already. It even won organizing votes in a Texas Walmart’s meatpacking unit and in a Quebec store. But the victories were short-lived. Walmart outsourced the company’s meatpacking and shut down the Quebec store, according to news reports at the time.

Walmart did not respond to a request for comment.

The company plans to open a new store in Everett later this year.

“It’s about respect and dignity for workers. It’s about equality, Walmart,” the Rev. Paul Benz told demonstrators before they marched on the store.

He compared the workers to Moses telling the pharaoh to free his Jewish slaves in biblical Egypt.

“Do you think he was shaking in his boots? Oh, yeah, but he did it,” said Benz, co-director of the Seattle-based Faith Action Network, who was one several speakers. “We’re going to make the change.”

Inside the climate-controlled, brightly-lit store, customers pushed shopping carts down linoleum-lined aisles, oblivious to protestors’ chants outside.

They had come for all sorts of goods — dog food, socks, toasters, bicycles, jewelry, bottled water and so on. All of it available at low prices, oftentimes with quality to match.

“If they don’t like their jobs, find other ones,” said a Snohomish woman shopping for summer clothes for her two young children.

Her husband doesn’t like shopping at Walmart, in part because of its employment policies, but she came for the prices, the 30-year-old woman said. “We’re on a budget.”

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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