WEST CHATHAM — Nearly 100 Wal-Mart employees protested outside one of its South Side stores Wednesday, demanding higher wages from the nation's largest retailer.
The workers gathered at the Wal-Mart store at 8331 S. Stewart Ave. and picketed in the parking lot for two hours, demanding an annual wage of $25,000, which many said was far more than they are making.
"I make $15,000 a year gross as a maintenance worker at the Lakeview [Wal-Mart] store. Luckily, I do not have a family to support, or they would be starving with me," said Myron Byrd, a 45-year-old Austin resident.
Byrd said the company offers him health insurance and other benefits, but he can't afford the premiums.
"What good is it to be eligible for benefits when I can't afford it?" Byrd asked.
Community activists and shoppers leaving the store also joined protesters in the parking lot.
Sandra Hall, a 43-year-old Auburn Gresham resident who had been shopping at the store, supported the workers' cause.
"They work hard and deserve to be paid a decent wage. All the money Wal-Mart makes, I doubt if they would miss paying these people a few more bucks per hour," she said.
Another employee, Charmaine Givens-Thomas, is a sales associate at the Wal-Mart store in suburban Evergreen Park. After eight years as a Wal-Mart employee, she said she earned $19,000 last year.
"If I were not married, I don't know how I would make it. I won't be going to work tomorrow to show Wal-Mart I mean business," said the 61-year-old Morgan Park resident. "I will call off tomorrow and join the rest of my struggling brothers and sisters in a one-day strike."
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. officials did not return calls seeking comment.
The Rev. Walter Turner, pastor of New Spiritual Light Missionary Baptist Church, attended the protest to show his support for higher wages.
"We are not going to take this anymore. Wal-Mart needs to get off their butt and pay their employees a livable wage," Turner said. "A multibillion dollar company like Walmart should be ashamed at the salaries they are paying full-time employees."
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), whose ward includes the West Chatham store, said he supports higher wages for employees.
"No one should have to work 40 hours a week and be paid poverty wages. One of the conditions Wal-Mart had agreed to before this store was built was to pay employees 50 cents more an hour than other retail stores," Brookins said. "I think asking to be paid $25,000 a year is a fair request."
Employees said when you consider what Wal-Mart executives are paid annually then their request is more than reasonable.
"Wal-Mart's executives and all my neighbors need to hear the reality of working at Wal-Mart," said Wal-Mart employee Richard Wilson, who said he earns $14,000 annually. "Despite working at Wal-Mart for all this time [the last two years] I still depend on my grandmother for housing."