By Desirée Taylor
They played music, marched and chanted near the Walmart in Secaucus to draw attention to the wages the giant retailer pays most of its workers, wages they call unliveable.
“I’ll be buried in my grave before I’ll ever be a Walmart slave,” said Colby Harris
Colby Harris was among a half-dozen people arrested. He says he knows first hand about Walmart’s alleged unfair labor practices because he used to work there.
“Most associates in our store actually make $8 or less, below the management level which is a poverty wage so a lot of us are on food stamps,” said Harris.
Harris and other former employees alleged they faced retaliation for speaking out against the company.
“I was bullied by a department mangaer where she would walk into me, block the entrance where I couldn’t walk but I still stand strong,” said Elaine Rozier, a former Walmart Associate.
But Walmart officials tell a different story. They say they offer employees benefits and competitive pay. For example, they say about 75 percent of store management teams earn between $50,000 and $170,000 per year.
The hourly wage is competitive too says Walmart spokesperson William Wertz.
“Our average hourly wage for full time associates is close to $13, that’s a good average wage in the retail industry,” said Wertz.
“About 425,000 workers are the only ones who get $25,000 per year, that means out of 1.5 million workers that Walmart has about 825,000 don’t get living wages. As we saw workers have to go on food drives to be able to get a thanksgiving” said protest organizer Maritza Silva-Farrell.
A livable wage is what many low income workers have been demanding here and across the country. New Jersey voters responded by voting to approve an increase to the state’s minimum wage.
“We went from $7.25 to $8.25 in New Jersey, it’s an important step but we need to do better” said RWDSU Local 108 President Charles Hall Jr.
“This state sent a clear message to the world, that we think the minimum wage should be raised, people should be able to earn a living wage and we think that Walmart needs to practice that and that’s why I’m here to show my support for these people who really represent our heart and soul of our economy and are getting a raw deal,” said Sen. Bob Gordon.
But Walmart officials say they provide good jobs and opportunity for advancement.
“Last year alone we had more than 160,000 promotions and often into our management ranks,” said Wertz.
Wertz points out that the majority of the protesters are from unions and other groups not Walmart employees. And with a new CEO at the helm the company, employees, and protesters are anxious to see if new leadership will bring a new opportunity to mend fences.