January 15, 2013 at 15:44 PM EST
Walmart draws protestors at retail conference
About 60 protestors gathered outside the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Tuesday morning in a demonstration against Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s labor practices. The protest occurred minutes after the keynote speech given by Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon at the annual National Retail Federation Big Show conference. Mr. Simon announced that beginning on Memorial Day, Walmart will offer jobs to any honorably discharged veterans. The initiative is expected to generate 100,000 additional hires over the next five years. He also spoke about an initiative to add $50 billion worth of U.S.-made products to its roster over the next decade, focusing on sporting goods, apparel and paper products. Currently, about two-thirds of Walmart's products are made, grown or sourced in the U.S. "At the heart of our national political conversation today is one issue: creating jobs to grow the economy," said Mr. Simon in a statement. "We are meeting with our suppliers on domestic manufacturing and are making a strong commitment to move this forward." His critics were not impressed. Following his speech, about a dozen demonstrators inside the hall engaged in a round of "Simon Says" claiming Walmart, which is not unionized, pays lower than a living wage for workers, and doesn't allow for sick days. It has spent years battling opposition from organized labor. Outside the Javits' north entrance, dozens of labor group activists and workers gathered with drums, costumes and signs shouting that Walmart hurts its employees through erratic scheduling of part-timers. Groups involved included Walmart-Free NYC, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, ALIGN, ROC-NY and United NY. The group had also sent an open letter to Mr. Simon last week about such issues. Walter Arevalo, who worked for over two years at a Walmart in Kearney, N.J., said he was let go in June because of tardiness. He said he often had trouble getting to work from his home, which was over an hour away, because of last-minute scheduling. "My schedule was unpredictable," he said. "Even though it was made two weeks in advance, it could still change within 24 hours." He said such methods are disrespectful to workers. Walmart did not respond to an inquiry about the protest by press time.
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