Labor groups and others picketed several Walmart stores in Maine on Friday as part of a national Black Friday protest against working conditions at the massive discount chain.
More than 70 protesters in Scarborough, Auburn, Augusta and Ellsworth and joined those at an estimated 1,500 Walmarts across the country on Friday, a nationwide event organized by the pro-labor group Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart.
Protesters at the Scarborough Walmart on Gallery Boulevard said Walmart workers often are underpaid, not allowed to work full time and have no set schedules.
“Walmart has a terrible habit of underpaying their workers a poverty wage,” said Doug Born, president of the Southern Maine Labor Council, which helped organize the protests in Maine.
Born and about 25 others held signs in the parking lot and handed out leaflets to shoppers just outside the store. A few even went into the Walmart to speak with employees and customers.
Scarborough police arrived about an hour after the 1 p.m. protest began and instructed the protesters to relocate to the sidewalk, which they did.
Born said research shows that every Walmart store drains nearly $1 million a year in social benefits from its surrounding community because the company’s workers are so poorly compensated that they rely heavily on public assistance.
Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove disagreed with claims that the company mistreats its workers.
He said the average non-management worker at Walmart is paid $12.81 an hour, and that more than half of hourly employees have full-time schedules.
Hargrove also said the company’s health care plans start as low as about $35 a month, which is half the average premium for retailer health plans.
“We’re tired of hearing the misperceptions of our company in the marketplace,” he said.
Protester Michael Hillard, an economics professor at the University of Southern Maine, said he decided to participate in the Scarborough demonstration after researching Walmart. He said the company is the biggest violator of labor rights in U.S. history.
Hillard said the discount retailer has racked up about $1 billion in fines and settlements for infractions such as failing to compensate employees for working overtime.
“Workers at Walmart barely make a poverty wage, let alone a living wage,” he said.
Hargrove noted that the vast majority of protesters across the country on Friday were members of labor organizations, and that very few were actual Walmart employees.
“The fact that none of the protesters work at Walmart, I think, speaks volumes,” he said.
The same was true at the Scarborough protest, but Born said it was important for supporters of workers’ rights to demonstrate their solidarity with Walmart employees.
“We’re not alone out here, and we want the Walmart workers to know they’re not alone in there,” he said.
J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 207-791-6390 or: