Petition Asks Obama To Meet With Walmart Workers


Kathleen Miles is the executive editor of Noema Magazine. She can be reached on Twitter at @mileskathleen.

One Walmart worker says she’s had enough with the company’s “poverty wages” and is taking her grievances straight to the top — to President Barack Obama.

Charmaine Givens-Thomas, a 60-year-old Walmart worker in Evergreen Park, Ill., has started an online petition asking Obama to meet with employees of the company.

“We would like for you to hear first-hand why [workers] are appealing for respect and calling on Walmart to pay them more to feed and support their families,” she wrote to Obama in the petition.

Givens-Thomas announced the petition Thursday on a conference call organized by OUR Walmart, an advocacy organization with ties to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The petition will be distributed by MoveOn, Credo, Sum of Us, Firedog Lake and other organizations in the coming days, according to Lynsey Kryzwick, a spokeswoman for OUR Walmart.

Givens-Thomas, who has worked at Walmart for almost eight years and makes $11 an hour, said she still relies on a food pantry and struggles to pay her bills.

“I’ve had my gas turned off because I have to make hard choices,” she said on the conference call. “Either you’re going to keep something like your lights on, or you’re going to keep the gas on. You shouldn’t have to make choices that like in America in 2013.”

Born and raised in Chicago, Givens-Thomas said that, at 15 years old, she marched with Martin Luther King Jr. Five years ago, when President Obama was elected, she was overjoyed. “I felt like we were closer to realizing King’s dream of good jobs and freedom,” she wrote in the petition.

However, “Walmart, the country’s largest employer, is helping to hold America back from this dream,” she wrote. “Like too many Americans, I cannot promise my grandchildren that they will have a brighter future than I had.”

Givens-Thomas’ petition comes as a few dozen Walmart workers went on a two-day strike in Los Angeles Wednesday. The workers are planning to demonstrate in a large protest on Thursday evening, calling for the retailer to raise wages and stop alleged retaliation for employees who work with union groups.

As president, Obama hasn’t been very vocal about Walmart’s wages — many of which are below $25,000 a year. But as a presidential contender in 2006, on a conference call about a union-led campaign to change Walmart working conditions, Obama said there is a “moral responsibility to stand up and fight” for better wages and benefits broadly.

The White House and Walmart did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.

Now, Givens-Thomas said, Obama has a responsibility to take action. “We would really like Obama to stand up for the workers like he said he would do,” she said. “We voted him in. We are his constituents, and we are suffering.”