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Walmart workers question Thanksgiving pay

Posted at 8:01 AM, Nov 22, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-22 08:01:42-05

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — On Thanksgiving evening, as other American families tuck into turkey and say thanks, Barbara Gertz will be working at the Walmart stock room in Aurora, Colorado.

“I don’t want my kid to know that she didn’t get to celebrate with her parents because I had to work,” said Gertz, who cannot afford to miss a shift. At an hourly wage of $10, she makes between $21,000 and $23000 a year.

Walmart, like many of its rivals, is opening its stores earlier than ever at 6 p.m. for holiday sales on Thanksgiving. Not only will Gertz miss Thanksgiving dinner with her daughter, but she also worries about not getting enough extra pay for working the holiday.

That’s because Walmart calculates “holiday pay” for its workers differently than many of its rivals — Target, Sears, Kmart, J.C. Penney and Toys R Us — who pay workers time and a half.

Walmart gives employees a regular hourly wage plus additional pay for working the Thanksgiving holiday. The additional pay is equal to the average daily wage in the two weeks leading up to the holiday.

That would mean that if Gertz worked an eight-hour shift on Thanksgiving day and also an average of eight hours a day in the two weeks prior, she would double her pay — or at $10 an hour, $80 extra.

The problem is that Gertz and other Walmart workers say their hours are cut prior to the holidays, so their average daily wage also goes down.

Last year, Gertz’s hours were cut by five hours a week before the holiday. Her hours were also cut in the weeks after the holiday, which bit into her paychecks further. She said some associates in her store had their hours slashed from 40 per week to 24 in the weeks after.

“The extra pay is not really a benefit, since they cut your hours,” she said. “Your paycheck either equals the same amount or it ends up being less.”

Walmart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan confirmed that Walmart holiday pay is structured the way Gertz and other workers explained. However, Walmart didn’t respond specifically to Gertz’s and other workers’ allegations about reduced hours during the holidays.

A number of Walmart workers have echoed Gertz sentiments as they have joined protests in the last year, demanding higher wages, better hours and the right to speak up without retaliation.

Protests began last year on Black Friday, when hundreds of people gathered outside of Walmart stores across the U.S. to protest for better treatment.

Similar protests have continued to pop up throughout the country even in other low-paid jobs, like fast food. Earlier this month, three current and two former Walmart workers were arrested outside of a Los Angeles store while protesting.

At the same time, Walmart is making a push to promote workers. On Monday, the retailer held a series of town hall meetings across the country, where it surprised 350 workers with promotions. The company said it’s on track to promote 160,000 workers this year, including more than 25,000 between November and the end of January.

Walmart is also offering a holiday meal to workers scheduled on Thanksgiving and also 25% off an entire purchase.

But these moves aren’t enough for Gertz, who has participated in a few of the strikes. She and her fellow workers are planning more actions around Black Friday this year. She said her actions will be part of 1,500 protests at Walmart stores across the country.

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