Wal-Mart protesters arrested in Manhattan

Protesters rally at the Walmart in Valley Stream Protesters rally at the Walmart in Valley Stream Thursday. Workers demonstrated in cities across the country for higher wages and better working conditions. (Sept 5, 2013) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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One current and two former workers from Walmart stores were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct while trying to deliver a petition demanding better working conditions to the Manhattan office of a company board director, police and organizers said Thursday.

The protest outside the Fifth Avenue office of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. board member Chris Williams, chief executive of The Williams Capital Group investment bank, was one of at least 15 demonstrations against the retailer in cities from Boston to San Francisco, including Valley Stream, protest organizers said.

The workers involved in the demonstrations had given the world's largest retailer a deadline of Monday, Labor Day, to reinstate employees they said had been wrongly fired or disciplined after protests earlier this year. The group also called on the company to publicly commit to offering higher wages.

"They're setting the standard in the retail industry by having a poverty wage," said Colby Harris, 23, of Dallas, who works at the Walmart in Lancaster, Texas. In a phone interview Harris said his supervisors disciplined him multiple times for participating in earlier protests, telling him he violated the company's attendance policy.

The workers and activists, organized by union-backed OUR Walmart, called Thursday's protests its largest demonstration against the retailer since Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Last year's protests didn't harm Wal-Mart's traffic during the national shopping day, as the company said it had larger crowds than the year before.

"It's just a show," Kory Lundberg, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said Wednesday. "Many of them don't work at Walmart or are affiliated with the company in any way."

Charlene Obernauer, executive director for Long Island Jobs with Justice, attended the Valley Stream protest. She said Walmart stores are staffed by large numbers of part-time employees working less than 30 hours a week, a strategy that she said sought to avoid health insurance coverage that will soon be required under the Affordable Care Act. "We're asking for workers to make the bare minimum of $25,000 a year," Obernauer said.

Lundberg said Thursday the average hourly wage for a full-time Walmart worker in New York State is $13.07, or roughly $27,000 a year. A majority of Wal-Mart's workers are full-time, he said, "which not many retailers can say."

With Keiko Morris

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