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Richmond Wal-Mart now has grocery, labor unrest

By Robert Rogers
Friday, November 2nd, 2012 at 10:33 am in Cities, Richmond.

A draft of a story is below. The big news here for most residents is that the Richmond Hilltop Wal-Mart has a grocery section now with fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. That’s good news in a city that has been determined to be a “food desert” for its lack of groceries.

There was also a labor squabble, part of a nationwide effort to gain leverage against the massive retailer.  

 

Read press release from labor groups here:

PR Richmond CA action 110212

More from Wal-Mart spokeswoman Delia Garcia:

“We refreshed the branding on the interiro of the store, refreshed the paint, signage … brand colors of blue, white and gold.”

“We previously had a limited selection of dry produce, like bagged apples. potatoes, bread and other dry staples, and limited dairy.”

“We also added a fabric department, sewing … bolts of fabric for our customers.”
 
“We do hire temporary associates, project based or for a specific period of time.  It is clearly expressed to the associates at the time. In the end, the associates are encouraged and able to apply for other positions with Wal-Mart, and their experience would be something positive for their application.”
 
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RICHMOND — Labor unrest marred the celebration Friday of the grand “reopening” of the Walmart at Hilltop mall marking completion of a four-month remodeling of the store that includes a grocery store-like selection of fresh and chilled produce and meats.

Five workers and about a dozen representatives from other labor unions staged a pre-dawn work stoppage at 6 a.m. Friday complaining of mistreatment and a hostile work environment. Walmart managers paced the sales floor greeting customers and directing other workers, while DJs set up sound stages in front of the store and company cargo trucks rumbled about the parking lot.

“They know we’re here, and they know we’re not going to stand for mistreatment,” said Demario Hammond, 22, one of the workers who walked off the job.

The stoppage was organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. Walmart employees are not unionized. The stoppage did not appear to affect store operations.

Walmart store managers declined to comment Friday, directing inquiries to the corporation’s media line.

“It’s a very small group of individuals,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Delia Garcia. “It’s unfortunate that the UFCW stages these types of demonstrations to call attention to themselves. When our associates have concerns, our open door policy of direct communication with management works.” The protest Friday is part of a larger union movement against the retailer nationwide, as labor looks assert pressure as the holiday shopping season approaches, a period when Walmart generates a good chunk of its sales — more than $440 billion last year.

Walmart employs 1.4 million workers nationwide, 73,000 in California and about 265 at the Richmond store, Garcia said.

Hammond said he was hired in mid-July, along with dozens of others, as labor for the remodel. He said they work 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. shifts at $9.45 per hour, performing overnight remodeling and reconfiguration work, including moving displays, painting and installing freezers.

The temporary workers helped the store go from offering dry and packaged foods to a full array of fresh and frozen products, Garcia said, a welcome expansion in Richmond, which has 103,000 resident but just one full-service grocery store.

“We want to provide our customers in Richmond the opportunity to make healthy and affordable food selections for their families,” Garcia said.

But Hammond said he and his co-workers were mistreated mostly by one manager brought in to oversee the store remodel. Hammond said they were subjected to threats, intimidation and racially-insensitive language.

“My co-worker was pulling a cart of stuff with a rope around his waist, and this (manager) tells him he wants to see it around his neck,” Hammond said. “That was just one of the things that happened, and I stood up and said that’s not right.”

Hammond said he and his co-worker, both African-American, found the remarks and the work environment racially hostile.

Garcia said all complaints are investigated. “Discrimination or mistreatment isn’t tolerated,” Garcia said. “We take all allegations very seriously.” Organizers said Thursday they thought more workers at Walmart on Friday morning might join the stoppage.

The space at Hilltop had been vacant since 1998, when a Macy’s store relocated to another part of the mall, before Richmond’s only Walmart opened in spring 2007.

The store has about 140,000 square feet of selling space, slightly larger than an average Walmart but smaller than a supercenter. The site was selected as one of 10 zones in Walmart’s nationwide Jobs and Opportunity Zone program.

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com and follow Twitter.com/roberthrogers

 

 

 

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