In January and earlier this month, Walmart shuttered 154 stores in the U.S., affecting 10,000 workers. In the aftermath, worker advocacy group Our Walmart has seen spikes in visits to its Facebook page, one of its main organizing hubs. The group’s posts reached 540,000 people, generating 66,000 clicks since the announcements, according to internal analytics shared with BuzzFeed News.
The worker group says it's capitalizing on the rush in new visitors. “A lot of these online conversations are turning into offline conversations,”Andrea Dehlendorf, an organizer with the campaign, told BuzzFeed News.
The spikes in interest coincide with days around store closures and days relevant to the WARN Act, which entitles workers to 60 days’ pay when they suffer an employment loss due to location closures. Workers who have not yet been placed in new stores began receiving that pay on February 10th, said Walmart spokesperson Kory Lundberg.
The company has “already extended transfer offers to more than 60% of affected associates” in the wake of the store closures, Lundberg said, and it expects "that number to keep growing over the next several weeks.” If workers are not placed by the end of the 60-day period, they are eligible to receive a severance equal to a week of pay for every year of service to Walmart.
Lundberg attributed the spikes in interest in Our Walmart's posts to news coverage about the closures. “There were a lot of stories written, so probably a lot of people heard about it and went to the site,” he said.
Formerly backed backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, Our Walmart campaigns for higher pay, full hours, and improved working conditions at the retailer. Last year, the group split with the UFCW, leading to a loss of funding; it now supports itself with foundation grants and $5-a-month dues from members.
Lundberg expressed skepticism that Our Walmart is gaining traction with workers, given the schism with the union.
“It sounds to me like what they’re saying, is, ‘When we had millions of dollars from the UFCW, we couldn’t get more than a few hundred people to participate in our group. Now that we’ve been unshackled from the union and their millions of dollars, we have this uptick in interest,” said Lundberg. “That seems off to me, but if that passes your eye-roll test, you’re the reporter.”
When asked whether the increased interest might be a result of the store closures and mass layoffs, Lundberg said that only a handful of visitors to the site explicitly identified themselves as workers by referencing their store numbers.
“It certainly wouldn’t be unlikely and wouldn’t be unprecedented” for non-workers to be engaging with Our Walmart, said Lundberg. “I don’t have any insight into this, and neither do you. It’s possible some of them are [workers.] I just don’t know. Six or seven people out of 540,000? It seems off.”