A group of protesters gather outside the Hinsdale Walmart Supercenter on Black Friday. (submitted photo)
A group of protesters gather outside the Hinsdale Walmart Supercenter on Black Friday. (submitted photo)
Saturday November 24, 2012

HINSDALE, N.H. -- A group of 10 to 20 people picketed outside the Walmart Supercenter for two hours Friday in a demonstration that mirrored similar activities across the country.

Hinsdale Police say they received a complaint Friday morning that a collection of protesters were on Walmart's public property and would not leave. Police Chief Todd Faulkner said he spoke with the people and told them they had to leave the property.

He said they left their vehicles in the store's parking lot and walked to the edge of Route 119 to continue their protest. It was a Black Friday demonstration to speak out against Walmart's treatment of workers and business practices.

Faulkner said the protesters obeyed the law, and no problem was created. He said the demonstration lasted from about 10 a.m. to noon.

An employee of the Walmart in Keene told the Reformer she did not know of any protests outside her store.

Al Norman, a Greenfield, Mass.,-based activist who founded Sprawl-Busters in 1993 and once helped prevent a Walmart from coming to his town, was at the Hinsdale protest to support the local workers. He said he didn't want the Hinsdale store to be the one that was forgotten, and the drive was much shorter for him than the ones to Northampton and Hadley, Mass.

"I always say it's a chain store in which every link in the chain is exploited," he said. "From the sweatshops in China to the sales floor in Hinsdale."

Norman said Walmart is the largest private employer in the United States but rarely pays its employees a livable wage. He said if the company paid each employee $12 an hour, it would add just 45 cents to each customer's shopping trip.

Norman said it is a shame Walmart pays so little because the family that owns it -- the Waltons -- is made up of multi-billionaires. He also blames the corporation for the loss of 200,000 American manufacturing jobs between 2001 and 2006.

Faried Numunar, a volunteer with the Vermont Workers' Center, said Walmart employees across the nation have decided to walk off the job in protest over the past three months. He said most workers are demanding better pay, improved conditions and basic workplace respect.

Numunar said the corporation has resorted to retaliation and intimidation to combat the organizing workers.

"For a long time, Walmart has systemically been against their workers' right to organize," he said, adding that the practice is legal but questionable.

Numunar said Walmart closed down a store Ontario, where some of its workers had formed a union.

According to The Associated Press, protesters gathered at Walmart stores across the United States to demand higher wages and better health care and benefits for the retail giant's hourly workers.

OUR Walmart said "hundreds and hundreds of workers" walked off the job on Black Friday, the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season.

OUR Walmart, an organization backed by the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, said it counted 1,000 protests in 46 U.S. states, including strikes in 100 cities -- but Walmart spokeswoman Ashley Hardie called those figures "grossly exaggerated" in a statement.

"We are aware of a few dozen protests at our stores today. The number of associates that have missed their scheduled shift today is more than 60 percent less than Black Friday last year," the statement quotes Walmart President and CEO Bill Simon as saying. "It was proven ... that the OUR Walmart group doesn't speak for the 1.3 million Walmart associates. We had our best Black Friday ever and OUR Walmart was unable to recruit more than a small number of associates to participate in these made-for-TV events. Press reports are now exposing what we have said all along -- the large majority of protesters aren't even Walmart workers."

Walmart reported it had its best Black Friday event in history. The statement said Walmart processed nearly 10 million register transactions and almost 5,000 items per second during the high-traffic period from 8 p.m. through midnight.

The statement also said Walmart associates receive a 10 percent discount on general merchandise bought at Walmart stores all year long and earlier this holiday season, the company rewarded associates with a special holiday discount of 10 percent off most food items from Nov. 9 to Jan. 1.

The corporation, based in Bentonville, Ark., operates in 10,400 stores in 27 countries, according to the AP.

In related news, authorities believe a disagreement over a parking space led to two people being shot and wounded outside a Walmart in Tallahassee, Fla. The individuals -- a man and a woman -- were taken to a nearby hospital and are expected to make full recoveries. No arrests had been made as of Friday night.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.