Up against the Walmart behemoth

February 25, 2014

Richard Capron speaks to a former Walmart worker about his fight for justice.

GERRY PALADEN'S journey began on a small island in the Philippines where he learned the virtues of hard work and internalized a religious sensibility that shaped him as a man of strong convictions. As an adult, he emigrated to the United States and settled in Las Vegas, where he worked tending bar for a time. Seeking employment that was less offensive to his belief system, Gerry started working for Walmart as a warehouseman, eventually settling in Federal Way, Wash.

One night, a representative of the OUR Walmart campaign came to his door and told him about the work of this organization in addressing the problems faced by Walmart workers. Emboldened by the prospect that OUR Walmart would stand behind him, Gerry began to speak out to management about the wrongs that he was seeing in the workplace.

Though a reliable and diligent worker, he began to come into conflict with Walmart management over a variety of issues, mainly related to working conditions. At times, the warehouse would be uncomfortably cold. When he brought this to management's attention, he was told that they would need permission from corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., before being allowed to turn up the heat.

Wal-Mart agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit in Minnesota after denying workers pay
Wal-Mart agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit in Minnesota after denying workers pay

On other occasions, he brought to management concerns over unsafe equipment that they were being forced to operate, such as the lift jacks for moving pallets. Without a union steward to mediate such grievances at Walmart, the burden for making these complaints falls upon the individual worker. This makes it easy for management to identify "troublemakers," and harass or weed them out.

In time, this is exactly what happened to Gerry. A co-worker, seeking to curry favor with management, accused Gerry of threatening him, a charge denied by Gerry. Without hearing his side of the story, which involved an obscene gesture designed to provoke him, Gerry was terminated, after seven years with Walmart--with no recourse and no appeal. He was simply out of work.

Subsequently, Gerry became even more involved with the OUR Walmart campaign, calling attention to the low wages, unfair and unsafe labor practices of the mega-retailer, and the culture of retaliation against employees, even after they have been fired. Gerry is himself under a restraining order initiated by Walmart, prohibiting him from trespassing on Walmart property anywhere in the country. This includes parking lots, which are owned by Walmart at many shopping centers, thus hindering him from even shopping in other stores not owned by Walmart.

Gerry recently spoke to SocialistWorker.org at his home in Federal Way.

AFTER GETTING fired by Walmart, you might have just moved on. But you decided to fight in the OUR Walmart campaign. What led to that decision?

I TOLD my boss that it was wrong to fire me, and that I had done nothing wrong. I am an honest man and only tell the truth. And it's not just about me. Just last weekend I was in Arizona to support a 63-year-old woman who had been fired.

Walmart doesn't care about its workers whether they are here or in Bangladesh. They just care about money. If you change Walmart, you change the world.

WHAT KIND of changes are you seeing since becoming part of the OUR Walmart campaign?

FOR ONE, they have purchased new equipment where I used to work. Everything has been replaced.

AND HOW has the campaign changed you?

I FEEL good, because I fight for right. I am fighting for other people, too. I am fighting for the truth.

YOU ARE under a restraining order. Are there other ways Walmart is retaliating against employees who stand up?

WELL, THEY change the schedule all the time, so you are often working where you don't belong. And they make you work overtime one month and cut your hours the next. That's not right. They say, "Save money, live better," but it's not for the workers. They don't live better.

WHAT ARE the next steps in your struggle with OUR Walmart?

I WILL continue to speak out. And we will continue to build support in the community. I have a number of different places to go like churches and other community organizations to spread our message.

SOME HAVE said that Walmart goes into smaller communities and crushes the small businesses. Then they turn on their own workers. What is your experience?

WALMART IS trying to control the world. The small businesses have to pay taxes, but Walmart gets breaks with the promise of jobs. But they destroy the jobs which already exist. That's not right. That's why I'm here.

SO WHAT can people in the community do to support this struggle?

CUSTOMERS SHOULD be going into the stores and telling management that they are aware of the unfair treatment of the workers. Walmart is very responsive to customers, but doesn't care about the workers.

IT SOUNDS like this is not about you, but about something more.

THAT'S RIGHT. It's not about me. I'm concerned about other workers--about those who work in sweatshops in other countries. I'm a human being. I'm not just fighting for myself. I'm not selfish, like Walmart, but care about millions of other workers around the world.

THE BLACK Friday protests seemed quite successful in late November with thousands of people demonstrating around the country. What is next for the OUR Walmart campaign?

NOW WE are trying to educate the workers. And there was a movement to strike in Arkansas. But Walmart was blaming the unions for trying to stir up trouble--which was a lie. We need to build an organization in Walmart that will stand up for the workers.

IS THERE anything else you would like people to know?

I NEED people to support us. I can't do it myself. We are up against the biggest corporation in the world. We need people to educate their communities. We need them to tell about the low wages and unfair labor practices and the retaliation against workers. We need them to speak out and tell the truth about what Walmart is doing.

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