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Kentucky Couple's ‘Ride for Respect’ at Walmart

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

berry craigJames and Trina Vetato knew about the freedom riders from history books.

This week, the Paducah, Ky., couple expects to join a civil rights movement-style protest against the world’s largest retailer. The Vetatos are activists in the employees’ group Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart for short. Trina currently works at a Walmart store and James is a former Walmart employee.

Called the “Ride for Respect,” the demonstration at Walmart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., will be modeled on civil rights volunteers who rode buses into the South in the 1960s to protest Jim Crow racial injustice, says James Vetato.

Busloads of OUR Walmart members will converge on Bentonville from across the country. They will be in town for the annual shareholders’ meeting June 7. Vetato says he expects 300 or more OUR Walmart members to begin arriving the week before the meeting. Most of the protesters—including Trina Vetato—will be taking part in an unfair labor practice strike, says her husband.

The protest will go on the whole week before the meeting. We especially want to draw national attention to Walmart management’s threats and retaliation against workers who speak up for better pay, more hours and respect on the job.

Vetato worked at his wife’s store in Paducah. When he stood up for his rights, he says:

I was threatened and intimidated by management who made my life so miserable I finally quit.

Our Walmart wants better pay, benefits and working conditions. “Like the freedom riders, we will be standing up for dignity and respect and justice and will be protesting peacefully,” Vetato says.

OUR Walmart isn’t a union, but the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) is helping the group, says Vetato.

Some other unions are in OUR Walmart’s corner, too. The Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council unanimously passed a resolution expressing its solidarity with the workers’ struggle at Walmart.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on June 2, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Berry Craig is the recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College.  He is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360.

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