Posted: Oct 10, 2012 8:38 PM
Updated: Oct 10, 2012 9:07 PM
(CBS News) There are only two entities that employ more people than Walmart, and they are the U.S. and Chinese militaries. The company says it employs 2.2 million people worldwide -- including 1.4 million in the U.S. alone.
One of the many things the company is known for is being aggressively anti-union. None of its American employees have officially unionized, and all attempts to do so to date have been crushed.
So it may come as a surprise that in the same week that Walmart shares hit an all-time high, its workers across the country appear to be trying to organize and walk out for the first time in the company's history in demand of better wages, benefits and work hours.
The size and scope of the strikes are unclear, but what began as a walkout by workers at a Los Angeles Walmart on Tuesday has since spread to 11 other cities, reports CBS affiliate KCBS in Los Angeles.
On Wednesday, hundreds of Walmart workers rallied outside the company's home office in Bentonville, Arkansas, reports CBS affiliate KFSM in Fort Smith.
Janna Pea, with the union-backed "Making Change at Walmart," told KFSM her group and more employees from "Our Walmart" came in by the busload after walking off the job in the first-ever Walmart associate walk-out.
Besides Los Angeles, other cities affected include Dallas, Seattle, Miami, Washington D.C., Sacramento, and San Francisco.
Dan Schlademan, director of the "Making Change" group, told The New York Times they might stage a protest the Friday after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, the biggest retail shopping day of the year.
Organizers claim the company retaliates against workers who even bring up general workplace concerns by doing things like cutting schedules.
Evelyn Cruz, who works at the Pico Rivera store in Los Angeles, told KCBS: "They want to silence as many of us as they can."
Walmart spokesman Dan Fogelman told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO in Los Angeles last week that the company considers these protests nothing more than union publicity stunts.
"If you go out on the Web and look at some of the stories of people that work at some of these unionized grocers in Southern California were telling you last year ... you're gonna see people working part-time jobs for less than ten dollars an hour," said Fogelman. "Yet they're complaining about our jobs, when the average full-time associate in California makes $12.82 an hour."