Locally, the day after Thanksiving turned to be about more than long lines and big bargains on gadgets and toys. It also featured protests against a national retailer, and for two malls in the tristate region, Black Friday turned briefly into Blackout Friday.
A union-led protest at the South Philadelphia Walart was one of an estimated 1,500 nationwide targeted at the world’s largest retailer.
Bill Epstein of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union said protesters believe Walmart is unfair to its workers.”This company that makes $17 billion a year in profits,should do better by its employees,” he said. “It should pay $25 thousand a year salary as a minimum. It should stop retailiating against workers who complain about scheduling and hours. It should be a responsible member of the corporate community.”Wal-Mart worker Tyesha Barnes disagrees with the union protesters.”I’ve been with the company for over 17-1/2 years and this is my second home, this is my family,” Barnes said from inside the story Friday morning. “I think a lot of the things that they are saying is not what the company represents, so I totally disagree with it. Walmart is family oriented. When I first started here I was in the jewelry department, I’ve been promoted several times and I plan on retiring here. The opportunities are here.”Out on the protest line, meanwhile, Epstein argued that everyone has a financial stake in Walmart’s treatment of its workforce: “There are 850,000 or more employees of Walmart nationally who don’t have any health-care coverage. You and I are paying for our health care twice. We pay once for our selves, and once for a Walmart employee.”
The protests come shortly after the National Labor Relations Board said it would pursue complaints against Walmart for its actions in respone to previous protests against its pay, practices and benfits.
The NLRB said that Walmart “threatened, surveilled, disciplined and/or terminated employees in anticipation of or in response to employees’ protected concerted activities” in 14 states.
In response to today’s protest, Walmart’s chief executive office, Bill Simon, told NBC’s Today program: “We are proud of the pay we have. We pay in the top half of the retail industry.” Walmart also sent media outlets a statement saying that few if any of the Black Friday protesters this year are actually Walmart employees.
In other Black Friday developments, both the Christiana Mall in Delaware and the Mall at Short Hills in Essex County, N.J., experienced brief power outages this morning as crowds of shoppers hunted bargains.
At Christiana Mall, the outage lasted about an hour, and police increased their presence for the time the power was off, said State police spokesman Sgt. Paul Shavack. Several storefronts pulled down their security gates during the outage – jewelers in particular.
Shoppers were allowed to remain in the slightly darkened mall while crews fixed the electricity issues.
A problem at an Essex County substation cut power to The Mall at Short Hills in Millburn just before 7 a.m.. The outage lasted about 10 minutes.
Elsewhere, Black Friday scenes were more typical on this day when the shopping gets tough and the tough go shopping.
Michelle Jernigan had her shopping cart full as she exited a store in South Philadelphia.
“A big wall clock, bed sheets towels, dolls, you name it,” she ticked off the items. “I bought a microwave cleaning solutions, hair products, perms, everything. I shopped until I dropped I’m so sleepy.”
Fellow shopper Michelle Hayes said she found plenty of bargains at 8 a.m., while avoiding the fabled Black Friday crush of shoppers.
“Yeah, I did fine,” Hayes said. “It was very nice. It’s not crowded at all. You could move around the store.”
This article includes reporting from the Associated Press.