Frequent presidential candidate Ralph Nader and at least 13 supporters picketed in Avon's Walmart Plaza Saturday as part of the Time for a Raise initiative to raise the country's minimum wage.
Nader, a Winsted native, acknowledged President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address endorsement of raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour, but Nader is calling for a steeper increase to $10.50 an hour. According to the Time for a Raise website, that is the "inflation-adjusted comparison" to minimum wage in 1968, a time Nader said the minimum wage levels peaked.
“So you start with a big 800-pound gorilla — Walmart," Nader told Patch Monday. "We want $10.50 by 90 days."
Avon was the last stop of three informal protests at Connecticut Walmarts, Torrington being the first, as part of Nader's Time for a Raise initiative. He started the collaborative project with the Center for the Study of Responsive Law last year, though he said pushes for the cause have been going on before that.
Connecticut's minimum wage is $8.25, according to the Department of Labor, whereas Nader said that at least 22 other states adhere to the federal minimum wage rate of $7.25.
“If they can pay $8.25 in Connecticut, we can make even stronger case," Nader said.
The Avon picketing appearance calling for Walmart to raise its minimum wage to $10.50 was scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m., but Nader said he arrived closer to 3:15 p.m. and was there for about 40 minutes. The protesters stationed themselves in a Walmart Plaza parking lot closest to Route 44, as the sidewalk right outside the store is Walmart property.
Nader said that workers are "short-changed" at the current minimum wage levels and that the "working poor" can't afford to buy necessities.
“How many people do you [Walmart] have working for you that are being paid under 10.50?” Nader said.
Participants held up signs with messages like “Walmart end wage slavery," “Wamart CEO makes $11,000 an hour,” “Walmart pay your staff a living wage” and “Walmart, 1968 paid more than 2013."
Avon resident Heather Cohen Satlof just missed the protesters at Walmart, but she said she was thankful to Nader for his support on the issue.
"I don't know much about Walmart as a conglomerate, but I do know their loyal employees in Avon — Laurie, Lana, Shelly and 'Mr. W' have made me a loyal shopper," Satlof commented on Avon Patch's Facebook page. "As a 42-year-old mother, I never thought I would join a protest, but this was important!"
Nader made a speech to people who came to support the cause, said Carlos Camacho, acting chairman of the Justice Party of Connecticut and a Windsor Locks resident who attended the Avon protest.
"In the past election, we heard about ‘job creators,'" Camacho said. "In that campaign the focus was on people from the business world, aka ‘job creators.' We feel that indeed small business plays a key role in creating jobs. However, we feel the common worker is also a job creator. Improving the wages of Walmart workers and others will have a ripple effect in our economy."
Two Avon Walmart security workers did ask the protesters to leave and Nader said he gave them pamphlets. At an earlier picketing event at the Waterbury Walmart, police asked the group to leave, he said.
While Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg did not release average minimum wage numbers for the corporation's stores as requested by Patch, he did say that the average full-time hourly Walmart employee in Connecticut makes $13.66 an hour, not including managers. A full-time employee at Walmart works 34 hours or more a week and most hourly employees are full-time, he said.
“The focus of Walmart on this issue is a little misplaced," Lundberg said. "As a company, we’re certainly reviewing the minimum wage issue and we are having internal discussions about it, but at this point we haven’t made a public statement on it.”
Lundberg said that Walmart has not announced a stance on increasing the minimum wage at this time.
“It’s an important issue and we want to make sure we’re being thoughtful about it," he said.
Walmart employs 8,207 people in Connecticut, Lundberg said. Discount centers like the Avon location typically have about 225 employees whereas the super centers with grocery sections have about 300, he said.
In the previous fiscal year ending Jan. 31, Walmart paid out $770 million in bonuses and for full- and part-time employees, according to Lundberg. Employees also saved a combined total of $550 million by using 10 percent employee discounts on regular-priced Walmart merchandise that include fruits and vegetables, he said.
“When you look at the real story behind the pay and benefits at Walmart you get a different story than what you’re used to hearing," Lundberg said.
Nader said that the minimum wage protests in Avon, Torrington and Waterbury went "very well."
"It’s a good start to spread it around the country," Nader said.