MALONE — Chana O’Leary waved at passing motorists Friday, on the busiest shopping day of the year, while standing by Route 11 behind a huge sign denouncing Wal-Mart.
Her sign accused the giant big-box retailer of paying its employees so little that many are forced to sign up for Food Stamps, a program that local taxpayers fund.
“We’ve learned it costs local government an average of $420,000 a year for them because Walmart is not paying their employees (enough),” she said, quoting information from the website www.ForRespect.org.
O’Leary, who lives in Constable, was one of the thousands of people expected to turn out across the country Friday to protest against Wal-Mart and its treatment of its staff members, known as associates.
The Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), which includes current and former employees and is backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, planned the associates’ Black Friday walkout, but a company spokesman said that didn’t really materialize.
“We estimate less than 50 associates participated in the protest nationwide,” said Bill Simon, the chief executive of Wal-Mart in the United States, in a news release. “In fact, this year, roughly the same number of associates missed their scheduled shift as last year.”
But the low-volume turnout didn’t deter O’Leary, who said others were supposed to join her “but I came prepared to be out here by myself.”
She doesn’t work at Wal-Mart but knows others who do who she said were too intimidated to take part in the protest.
“I’m just there to raise awareness,” she said. “They’re paying people poverty-level wages, and there are videos of managers telling employees they’re eligible for Food Stamps and Medicaid and encouraging them to apply.
“Wal-Mart refuses to acknowledge that and thinks they are above it all,” O’Leary said, adding that if $12.49 were kicked in from every shopper Wal-Mart sees, “it would increase the associates’ salary to $25,000 a year, and they would be able to make a living.
“They’re just making the taxpayers subsidize their business,” she said. “This is a perfect example of corporate welfare.”
Many drivers honked their horns in support as they drove by the Wal-Mart in Malone at about 10:30 a.m. But there was noticeable silence from the steady line of vehicles preparing to make the turn into the superstore’s parking lot.
O’Leary started her vigil at 8 a.m. and said she’d remain there “until it gets too cold or dark.
“I really believe I am my brother’s keeper and speak for those who feel they can’t.
“I’m standing up for my neighbors.”
Email Denise A. Raymo: firstname.lastname@example.org