Occupy Bozeman members congregated near the electronics area and chanted slogans back and forth to each other against Wal-Mart as hundreds of shoppers and a few workers stopped to take notice. Managers were soon on the scene, and the group was escorted out as they continued chanting all the way through the store.
Occupy Bozeman, which has held similar actions in recent weeks outside of Wells Fargo bank and another at an office of U.S. Senator Max Baucus, was there to call attention to Wal-Mart's labor practices. Many were there also to call on locals to shop locally.
Wal-Mart, based out of Bentonville, Ark., is the largest company in Fortune's Global 500 and employees some 2,100,000 workers.
Though Wal-Mart provides many jobs, they have been the target of many workers' rights groups over the years, particularly those supporting a living wage. Wal-Mart has countered that the low prices they pass on to consumers justifies lower wages. While escorting protesters off of Wal-Mart property, a Wal-Mart manager defended her company's practices saying, "We pay our workers better than Target."
An April 2011 study by the University of California, Berkeley Center for Labor Research Education found that if Wal-Mart paid a living wage of $12 per hour, the cost to consumers would only be an extra 46 cents per visit and $12.49 per year.
Wal-Mart has also been targeted for its use of sweatshop labor. Wal-Mart, for instance, uses two subcontractors from Bangladesh - The Nassa Group and The Envoy Group - who pay workers Bangladesh's minimum wage of 20 cents an hour. Though cost of living in Bangladesh is much less than the United States, 20 cents an hour has been found not to be a living wage, failing to cover that worker's nutritional needs.
Wal-Mart has also been criticized in the United States for paying women less than men in similar positions and for not promoting as many women as men, even though women make up more than half of Wal-Mart's labor force. A class action suit against Wal-Mart, however, was thrown out by the Supreme Court this past June on the grounds that the women cannot properly constitute a class.
In response to this pressure, the New York Times reported in September that Wal-Mart is rolling out "women-friendly plans" to buy more from women-owned businesses and to help women who work for Wal-Mart's suppliers. For instance, one supplier in El Salvador reportedly makes female employees take pregnancy tests while paying them only 15 cents per pair of pants produced.
Wal-Mart has also been notorious to the lengths it will go to stop workers from unionizing. In 2005, a store in Quebec was certified as the only Wal-Mart union shop at that time in North America. Wal-Mart closed that store within a few months of unionizing. However, in other countries, Wal-Mart does have unionized stores. One executive explains, "In that market, that's what the associates want, and that's the prevailing practice." That hasn't stopped them from going after workers in the United States who have a legal right to unionize if they so choose.
Many of the Occupy Bozeman activists held signs urging people to shop locally. The concern that Wal-Mart may drive people out of business and even in cases out of their homes has come up in news this week out of the nation's capital. There, a Washington Post report notes that Wal-Mart is promising 1,800 jobs, job-training programs, and a slew of other perks to city residents in return for being allowed to build its first stores in economically depressed parts of the nation's capital. Despite the jobs and promises, several grassroots groups have risen up against Wal-Mart. They note that none of Wal-Mart's promises is legally binding. Other opponents have feared gentrification. About five years ago, when big box stores Target and Best Buy moved into Washington's Columbia Heights neighborhood, rents skyrocketed, forcing out large numbers of long-term residents, many of whom were people of color.
After being escorted all the way to the road by Wal-Mart management, activists set up on the road at the busy intersection of Oak and 7th, though relatively far from the main building. For a short while, management stayed within sight.
Occupy Bozeman has its next General Assembly meeting Saturday at 12 Noon at Soroptimist Park (Rouse and Main). All are welcome to attend and participate. Afterwards at 2 PM, Occupy Bozeman is screening the documentary movie Inside Job, which looks at the roots of the financial crisis that started in 2008.