Reitired pastor William P. Miller of the United Methodist Church was arrested for civil disobedience along with 8 others. Workers at the Walmart store in
Reitired pastor William P. Miller of the United Methodist Church was arrested for civil disobedience along with 8 others. Workers at the Walmart store in Paramount were some of many throughout Southern California that walked off their jobs today on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year as part of a nationwide union-organized protest. (Brittany Murray / Staff Photographer)

| PHOTOS: Protests across nation

PARAMOUNT - Holding signs and chanting for better treatment of workers, nearly 1,000 demonstrators converged in the parking lot of Walmart Friday - creating a chaotic scene on the busiest shopping day of the year.

Nine protesters were arrested for refusing to leave the middle of Lakewood Boulevard during a workers' rights demonstration, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Deputies ordered the estimated 1,000 protesters who flooded the parking lot to disperse after they spilled onto Lakewood and Century boulevards, blocking traffic.

Most of the protesters - many of them wearing lime green shirts that read "How the 1% Hurts the 99%" - stepped onto the sidewalk.

Martha Sellers, who has worked as a cashier at the Walmart in Paramount for nine years, was among 17 co-workers who walked out of the work early Friday morning.

"Sometimes you're on the register for three hours or four hours without a break. We just keep getting, 'Do this, do that,'" she said. "So it's time for Walmart to stand up and say, 'OK, we're doing wrong.' I'm protesting to make them acknowledge that they're doing us wrong. It's time."

Video: Protesters arrested at Paramount Walmart

She and others stood by, chanting and throwing flowers onto the street as deputies arrested the nine protesters who remained sitting in the southbound lanes of Lakewood Boulevard.


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The arrests were peaceful. The nine protesters were booked at Lakewood Sheriff's Station on suspicion of refusing to disperse, a misdemeanor.

The protests, organized by United Food & Commercial Workers union, began at about 5 a.m. Friday. Organizers said about 50 people walked off the job at five Walmart stores across Southern California, including Walmarts in Duarte and two in Los Angeles.

Alfonso Luna holds a sign to show support for workers at the Walmart store in Paramount who were some of many throughout Southern California that walked
Alfonso Luna holds a sign to show support for workers at the Walmart store in Paramount who were some of many throughout Southern California that walked off their jobs today on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year as part of a nationwide union-organized protest. (Brittany Murray / Staff Photographer)

Protesters, several members of the clergy and other supporters later gathered for a press conference in the parking lot of the 14501 Lakewood Blvd. store, many arriving in three buses. Several protesters carried signs that read, "Live Better, Invest in People," and "Can you live on $8 an hour?"

Walmart workers have been speaking out nationwide about "take-home pay so low that many workers' families have to rely on public assistance just to stay afloat," "understaffing that is keeping workers from receiving sufficient hours and hurts customer service" and safety issues, according to Making Change at Walmart.

However, Walmart officials say that most of the people at the event weren't employees but union supporters.

Steven V. Restivo, Walmart's senior director of community affairs, said Walmart's "pay and benefits plans are as good as or better than our retail competitors, including those that are unionized."

He added that the company received five million job applications this year.

Walmart has 250,000 employees who have worked for the company for more than 10 years, according to Restivo, and the retailer promoted 165,000 hourly employees last year.

In response to the UFCW's protests, Bill Simon, Walmart U.S. president and chief executive officer, said in a written statement: "Only 26 protests occurred at stores last night and many of them did not include any Walmart associates."

Walmart did not experience the walk-offs that were promised by the UFCW, according to the company.

"We estimate that less than 50 associates participated in the protest nationwide. In fact, this year, roughly the same number of associates missed their scheduled shift as last year," Simon said.

About 40 deputies and officers were deployed at Friday's protests, including Lakewood Sheriff's Station deputies, the Sheriff's Special Response Team, motorcycles, a helicopter, and Downey Police Department officers directing traffic for the nearby city of Downey.

Sgt. Dale Ryken said law enforcement agencies have been monitoring Internet activity that revealed protesters were looking for volunteers to get arrested at Friday's rally for refusal to disperse.

Momentum has indeed been building toward the Black Friday protest since Oct. 4, when the first group of workers went on strike in Pico Rivera, said Elizabeth Brennan, communications director of Warehouse Workers United.

"We're really been building to this major day to talk with consumers and get the attention of Walmart to try to address some of these concerns that workers are talking about in terms of being retaliated against when they stand up about trying to work full time, get better wages, affordable healthcare," she said.

Although representatives from Walmart U.S. touted record Black Friday events with larger crowds than last year, shoppers who were inside the Paramount store said it seemed empty and quiet inside.

"It wasn't really crowded," said South Gate resident Steve Alvizo. "We saw (the protest) when we parked. We just wanted to look at the deals but there's not really any deals."

Alvizo said he will likely not return to Walmart because of the protests.

"I think they deserve better pay than they are getting," he said.

Opinions were almost evenly divided on whether one would cross a picket line, or a rally, outside a Walmart, though the vast majority of people agreed workers earning less than $10 an hour without benefits had a right to be frustrated.

"I think the protest is a typical union ploy," said Mark White. "I understand the point of the employees, but I don't like getting unions involved. They should go get a job somewhere that pays better ... if they aren't educated well enough, or trained, that's their responsibility."

Sellers, who works at the Paramount Walmart, said she earns more than $8 an hour, but said it's not enough.

"I do make $13 an hour but I can barely make my rent," she said. "Now the scary part comes tomorrow when I go back to work."

City News Service contributed to this story. karen.robes@presstelegram.com, 562-714-2088, twitter.com/KarenMeeksPT