Apple Valley associate joins nationwide Walmart strike

Supporters show their support for low-wage workers at Walmart and Target at a sendoff event for Gabe Teneyuque.

Supporters show their support for low-wage workers at Walmart and Target at a sendoff event for Gabe Teneyuque.

An associate from Apple Valley is among more than 100 striking Walmart workers nationwide who are protesting outside the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Bentonville, Ark., this week.

Gabriel Teneyuque, a member of the grassroots campaign OUR Walmart, joined the “Ride for Respect” to company headquarters last week. The caravan traveled through about 30 cities, picking up striking workers on its way to Bentonville.

At a send-off event for Teneyuque May 29 in Minneapolis, local activists offered their well wishes – and laid plans to echo the strikers’ protest in Bentonville with a local action June 7 in St. Paul. [Click here for details or to RSVP.]

Bernie Hesse of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189, which represents retail workers in Duluth and the East Metro, said community support will be critical to the success of Walmart associates’ fledgling campaign for improved working conditions.

“We’re sending off workers today who are very brave,” Hesse said. “It takes a lot of guts to walk out of the biggest corporation.”

Teneyuque has more guts than most. He keeps a copy of Walmart’s employee handbook in his pocket whenever he’s on the clock, and talked about standing up to store managers to help a co-worker get the bereavement leave she was entitled to.

After getting involved in OUR Walmart last year, Teneyuque joined 500 workers nationwide in walking off the job on Black Friday, the nation’s busiest shopping day. The one-day strike led to a major victory for Walmart workers: the retailer now regularly posts associates’ scheduled hours – a major demand voiced by workers during Black Friday protests.

Teneyuque said actions this week will target the retailer’s aggressive use of intimidation and retaliation against workers looking to organize for better wages and health care benefits.

“A lot of the long-term workers at my store are still on state assistance. That bugs me really bad,” Teneyuque said. “With a successful company like Wal-Mart, that shouldn’t be the case.”

Indeed, that’s exactly the conclusion of a study released earlier this week by the Democratic staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

“The price of Wal-Mart’s low wages and benefits at just one Wal-Mart store not only costs families in lost income and economic security, but it also may cost taxpayers about $1 million in higher usage of public-assistance programs by Wal-Mart employees and their dependents,” the study found.

Meanwhile, workers who clean Twin Cities-based Target stores are planning a similar action – including a caravan to the company’s shareholder meeting in Denver – if the retailer refuses to address their concerns about declining wages. Click here for more information.

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