RICHMOND -- Labor unrest marred the celebration Friday of the grand "reopening" of the Walmart at Hilltop mall marking completion of a four-month remodeling of the store.
Five workers and about a dozen representatives from other labor unions staged a pre-dawn work stoppage at 6 a.m. Friday complaining of mistreatment and a hostile work environment. Walmart managers paced the sales floor greeting customers and directing other workers, while DJs set up sound stages in front of the store and company cargo trucks rumbled about the parking lot. The remodeled, 206,000-square-foot store features a large selection of fresh and chilled produce and meats.
"They know we're here, and they know we're not going to stand for mistreatment," said Demario Hammond, 22, one of the workers who walked off the job.
The stoppage was organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. Walmart employees are not unionized. The stoppage did not appear to affect store operations.
Walmart store managers declined to comment Friday, directing inquiries to the corporation's media line.
"It's a very small group of individuals," said Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia. "It's unfortunate that the UFCW stages these types of demonstrations to call attention to themselves. When our associates have concerns, our open door policy of direct communication with management works."
The protest Friday is part of a larger union movement against
Walmart employs 1.4 million workers nationwide, 73,000 in California and about 265 at the Richmond store, Garcia said.
Hammond said he was hired in mid-July, along with dozens of others, as labor for the remodel. He said they worked 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. shifts at $9.45 per hour, performing overnight remodeling and reconfiguration work, including moving displays, painting and installing freezers.
The temporary workers helped the store go from offering mostly dry and packaged foods to an array of fresh and frozen products, Garcia said, a welcome expansion for many in Richmond, which has 103,000 residents but just one full-service grocery store.
"We want to provide our customers in Richmond the opportunity to make healthy and affordable food selections for their families," Garcia said.
But Hammond said he and his co-workers were mistreated mostly by one manager brought in to oversee the store remodel. Hammond said they were subjected to threats, intimidation and racially insensitive language.
"My co-worker was pulling a cart of stuff with a rope around his waist, and this (manager) tells him he wants to see it around his neck," Hammond said. "That was just one of the things that happened, and I stood up and said that's not right."
Hammond said he and his co-worker, both African-American, found the remarks and the work environment racially hostile.
Garcia said all complaints are investigated. "Discrimination or mistreatment isn't tolerated," Garcia said. "We take all allegations very seriously."
Organizers said Thursday they had thought more workers at Walmart on Friday morning might join the stoppage.
The space at Hilltop had been vacant since 1998, when a Macy's store relocated to another part of the mall, before Richmond's only Walmart opened in spring 2007.