MANHATTAN (CN) – Occupy Wall Street protesters wielded signs of the trademarked Wal-Mart smiley-face with its brows furrowed in mischief, as hundreds stepped to the sound of battle drums in a march that ending at the megacorporation’s Times Square office headquarters on Thursday afternoon.
So far, public and political opposition has kept Wal-Mart from opening stores in New York City.
New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who co-authored a report months ago urging city officials keep the city’s gates closed to store branches, spoke to the crowds before the procession formed.
“Today, New York City is a Wal-Mart-Free Zone,” de Blasio declared to cheers and jazz hands from the crowd. “It’s up to us to keep it that way.”
His study, conducted with Hunter College, concluded that opening Wal-Mart branches in the city would eliminate more jobs than it created, push out independently owned small businesses and burden taxpayers.
Before de Blasio spoke, several Wal-Mart employees from around the world stood before crowds who repeated their words on the so-called people’s mic.
Girshriela Green, a self-described department manager, said that Wal-Mart gave her the job responsibilities of several employees at a salary barely higher than minimum wage.
Activating the so-called people’s mic, the crowd rattled off her many daily tasks.
“I’m also a cashier.”
“I’m also a photo specialist.”
“I’m also a photo technician.”
“I also stock shelves.”
“I order merchandise.”
“I supervise my associates.”
“I do a salary manager’s job.”
She said she gets paid $9.80 an hour.
Another worker, Jonathan, said he traveled from South Africa to speak, and is also a member of the teacher’s union in that country.
“In South Africa, we are campaigning against Wal-Mart to tell our brothers and sisters all over the world that Wal-Mart is anti-union,” Jonathan said. “We are saying ‘buy local.’ We are saying ‘save jobs.'”
In a nod to the Occupy Wall Street chant, “We are the 99 percent,” organizers of this march stated that the Walton family, which owns about half of Wal-Mart, belongs to the richest thousandth of a percent of the United States.
According to Forbes, five members of that family possess more than $83 billion.
Last year, ABC News reported that the company’s CEO Michael Duke makes more in an hour than his workers do in a year.
Protesters are expected to gather at the company’s Times Square headquarters by 4 p.m.
Wal-Mart used the language of the protesters to defend the company in a statement.
“The special interests’ latest stunt to block jobs, economic development and low prices seems particularly misguided given the fact that Wal-Mart is focused on serving ‘the 99 percent,” spokesman Steve Restivo said in a statement. “We’re helping to lower the cost of living for millions of Americans by providing more convenient access to affordable groceries and we create and support jobs that offer competitive pay, good benefits and the chance to build a career. That’s why an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers want Wal-Mart in New York City.”
Restivo added that recent polls show support for a New York City outpost and that New Yorkers are on track to spend $215 million at locations outside the city in 2011.
One of the three polls the company cited, from Quinnipiac University, found that 70 percent of New Yorkers believed lower prices would benefit shoppers, while 68 percent felt the opening of a Wal-Mart would harm local businesses.