Activists protest worker wages, Wal-Mart

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Dearborn — Workers’ rights activists and religious leaders from Metro Detroit gathered in the rain on a grassy hill outside a Wal-Mart on Friday morning to protest worker wages on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Chanting “What do we want? $15! When do we want it? Now!” outside the Wal-Mart on Mercury Drive, nearly 50 protesters stood in the rain, holding signs and demanding Wal-Mart workers be paid at least $15 an hour.

Organizer Greg Sullivan of Our Walmart Alliance of Southeast Michigan said more than 60 million workers in the United States make less than $15 an hour, while corporate pay rates continue to skyrocket.

“We’re trying to send the message that working people have taken a hit for way too many years,” said Sullivan. “Their wages have stagnated. ... We need to better than that — and we can do better.”

Activists came from a number of coalitions and groups, including Detroit Metro Interfaith Worker Justice, retired Ford UAW activists and the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan. Drivers on Ford Road honked their horns as they drove by to show their support.

The Dearborn Police Department wouldn’t let the protesters stand or park in the Wal-Mart parking lot because it’s private property.

A tow truck was on standby for most of the protest.

The Rev. Edwin Rowe, a retired United Methodist minister and member of Detroit Metro Interfaith Worker Justice, said Wal-Mart has hired agencies to monitor its employees and any movement toward organizing.

“Wal-Mart has declared war on its own workers, who are only trying to get $15 an hour, a living wage,” he said.

A Wal-Mart spokesman said the retailer is proud of the wages and benefit packages it offers its employees.

“Our average full-time hourly associate earns more than $13 an hour in addition to the opportunity for quarterly cash bonuses, matching 401k and health care benefits,” said Brian Nick, Wal-Mart’s senior director of corporate communications.

“Wal-Mart is investing $2.7 billion over this year and next in wages, education and training for our associates because we know they make the difference.”

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