Protesters To Picket Wal-Mart On Black Friday

Union-backed organizations plan to picket selected stores across the country, about 1,000 in all. Journalist Charles Fishman tells Linda Wertheimer the groups protesting want to make Wal-Mart a better company and a better place to work. Fishman is the author of the book, The Wal-Mart Effect.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

For those in parts of the country lucky enough to have been spared by the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, life goes on. And for many, that means heading out for Black Friday shopping tomorrow, or maybe even tonight. Whichever day they choose, shoppers may encounter protesters outside their local Wal-Mart. Union backed organizations plan to picket selected stores across the country. Wal-Mart has gone to the National Labor Relations Board to stop the protests, but no decision has been made. To find out more, we turned to journalist Charles Fishman. He is the author of a book about Wal-Mart called "The Wal-Mart Effect." He joins us from Mexico City. Good morning.

CHARLES FISHMAN: Good morning.

WERTHEIMER: So who is organizing this protest against Wal-Mart?

FISHMAN: Well, there are a couple of new groups that are ostensibly employee groups. One of them is called Our Wal-Mart, and they've actually been organized with union backing, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which is a big retail union. And the groups include a fair number of current Wal-Mart employees, some union people and some former employees. What's interesting about this set of protests is, first of all, they have announced that they hope to protest outside 1,000 Wal-Marts in the United States. That's one out of four Wal-Marts. And they're not immediately talking about trying to unionize Wal-Mart. They talk about trying to make Wal-Mart a better company and a better place to work.

WERTHEIMER: Well, could you be specific about what they hope to accomplish?

FISHMAN: I think the long-term goal is to improve the way Wal-Mart manages employees, given that most Wal-Mart employees don't make more than a few hundred dollars a week. The cost of health insurance is significant, and there's pressure for Wal-Mart to cover more of that cost. And then wages themselves. The workers would like Wal-Marts pay more. But what these groups are actually trying to do by protesting on Black Friday is connect with customers, raise public awareness. In the last 10 years it's become clear that Wal-Mart actually will respond to public outrage over its practices and change those practices.

WERTHEIMER: So that's why they picked Black Friday, I guess.

FISHMAN: Exactly. It's an effort to say to the people, you may like the prices, you may appreciate, you know, the range of merchandise that Wal-Mart offers and the convenience, but if you actually knew what it was like to be an employee here, that would give you some pause. We're here to tell you what it's like to be an employee here.

WERTHEIMER: Well, what about the thing that the management always raises about efforts to organize at Wal-Mart, that Wal-Mart workers just don't really believe that the unions can do that much for them?

FISHMAN: Most people don't have any sense of what a union could provide. They don't know people who work in union organized companies or industries, and the unions are promising things that most people don't have any experience hearing about happen from their friends and colleagues. And so it's much more of a commentary on the relevance of unions and their ability to communicate than it is about whether Wal-Mart is a good place to work or not.

WERTHEIMER: So based on Wal-Mart's history, what would be your thinking about this kind of educational protest? What would be likely to be the outcome, do you think?

FISHMAN: Well, what I think is interesting about this effort is that it's very savvy. Wal-Mart can't send 1,000 teams from headquarters out to battle with. And I think it may actually begin to have some results. The really interesting thing is going to be to see whether the groups that are trying to raise awareness this morning actually get protests at 1,000 stores. That will send a message to Wal-Mart's customers and also, importantly, to Wal-Mart.

WERTHEIMER: Charles Fishman is the author or "The Wal-Mart Effect." He joined us from Mexico City. Mr. Fishman, thank you very much.

FISHMAN: Thank you.

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