PI Original Ellyn Fortino Thursday September 5th, 2013, 10:27pm

Walmart Workers Rally In Chicago For Better Jobs, Higher Wages (VIDEO)

More than 100 Chicago Walmart workers and their supporters rallied outside the retail giant's West Loop location Thursday afternoon, calling on the company to boost wages and reinstate illegally fired and disciplined workers. Progress Illinois was there for the demonstration.

More than 100 Chicago Walmart workers and their supporters rallied outside the retail giant's West Loop location Thursday afternoon, calling on the company to boost wages and reinstate illegally fired and disciplined workers. 

Chicago police arrested eight protestors and issued citations for blocking the street in front of the Walmart Neighborhood Market at 570 W. Monroe St. Among those arrested included the Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of Arise Chicago.

"American workers should not be forced into a battle with the country's largest employer to have their rights recognized and to be paid a living wage," Hawking said. "It is a question of fairness. It's about right and wrong."

Other community and labor groups that stood with the Walmart employees at Thursday's action include the Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Jobs With Justice, Stand Up! Chicago, and SEIU*, to name a few.

Charmaine Givens-Thomas, 60, works full-time at Walmart in Evergreen Park. She makes $11 an hour and is allowed a little more than 30 hours per week of work time. Givens-Thomas said her earnings are way beneath the wages required to meet her basic needs, including health care.

"I struggle to get by on poverty wages," she said.

Givens-Thomas and the other protestors are demanding that Walmart provide its workers with full-time hours and annual earnings of at least $25,000.

"I believe that Walmart is capable of doing that with them being a multi-billion dollar company," Givens-Thomas said.

The company brought in more than $466 billion in revenue during the 2013 fiscal year, which ended January 31. That's up 5 percent compared to fiscal year 2012.

Givens-Thomas is one of a growing number of members with the national organization Organized United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart. The organization formed two years ago over concerns about the company retaliating against workers who spoke out about the company's reportedly poor working conditions. OUR Walmart was responsible for the first Walmart strikes in the company's history last year, and it helped recruit more than 30,000 supporters to protest at various locations on Black Friday in 2012.

"We're really not asking for much," said Marypat Tifft, 58, an OUR Walmart member. "We're asking for full-time hours, $25,000 minimum pay a year ... That would help us to take care of our everyday expenses, and it would help us to become self-dependent, rather than state-dependent."

Tifft has worked for the past 25 years at a Walmart in Kenosha, Wisconsin. She said she's upset because the store has removed all of its workers' incentives. Employees can no longer receive merit raises and they're only allowed one raise per year, which is usually only 40 to 50 cents, she said. Walmart's associates are struggling, Tifft added, and living paycheck-to-paycheck simply doesn't cut it for many of them.

Here's more from Tifft and Givens-Thomas:

This is not the first time workers have picketed outside Walmart's West Loop location this summer. Workers also took to the store in June as part of another push for higher wages. The protest came the same week as other demonstrations took place outside the retailer’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas leading up to Walmart’s annual shareholder meeting.

Since June's actions, the workers say Walmart has illegally disciplined nearly 80 workers, and 20 worker-leaders have been fired. According to organizers, more than 100 Unfair Labor Practice charges have since been filed with the National Labor Board against Walmart.

Last month, OUR Walmart handed the company a Labor Day deadline to make a change. But since Walmart missed the mark, workers say they will continue to demonstrate until Walmart meets their demands.

"Walmart cannot silence our concerns," said Tyrone Robinson, a former Chatham Chicago Walmart employee who was reportedly illegally fired after going on a legally-protected strike in May. "Our fight to get Walmart to publicly commit to providing better jobs is not just about improving the lives of our families. It's about improving the jobs for all American workers and strengthening the economy for all of us."

*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website

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