DAVENPORT — A nationally organized campaign protesting wages and health care benefits for Walmart employees met a roadblock Friday morning in the form of Davenport police officers and management at the Walmart on West Kimberly Road.
About 75 people, representing the Sisters of Humility, the Quad City Federation of Labor, the Diocese of Davenport, Quad City Interfaith and Progressive Action for the Common Good conducted a worker's prayer vigil/jubilee at the store
Walmart management didn't want the group on Walmart property. Davenport police officers told the protesters they had to leave the parking lot, which led to some testy exchanges between some of the protesters and police.
"They threatened to arrest me if I walked toward the store," said Ed Blough, a Davenport city worker and member of Teamsters Local 235. "I told him (officer), 'I was just shopping.'"
Another protester, Rosa Wilson, also of Davenport, said, "We have a right to go in and shop. It's Black Friday."
One Davenport officer ordered a protester to pick up a piece of a wrapper the man flicked into the parking lot as the group of labor and religious leaders were herded away.
"Pick that up or you could go to jail, sir," the officer commanded. He was ignored.
Another protester asked police why they were moving.
"Ma'am, I'm not going to sit here and debate this," the officer said.
The protesters moved to a berm area to conduct their prayer.
Dino Leone, Quad City Federation of Labor vice president, said the police tried to intervene on the group's behalf by asking the Walmart store manager if the nuns could say a prayer outside. Mr. Leone said the police said Walmart didn't want the group on their property.
"It was a very peaceful gathering," Mr. Leone said. "I look at it this way, if they want to arrest our priest, our nuns, and our labor leaders for having a prayer service, I think we will find if that comes down to bear, people will no longer respect that store.
"We were there to pray for the store to do well and the workers to do well. What is wrong with that?"
The Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) is asking the corporation for better wages. In June 2011, 100 Walmart employees traveled to Walmart's home office in Bentonville, Ark., to present what it called a "Declaration of Respect" to Walmart executive management.
Huddled in the cold winds, different members of the group read prayers, and said Walmart could keep its low prices and still pay workers more.
"In 2010, six members of the Walton family had the same wealth as the bottom 42 percent of American families — 48.8 million families," said Scott Noyd, a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 431, Davenport.
Afterward, he said, "I'm a little disappointed in the fact that the company wouldn't allow us to do a prayer vigil. We were trying to be peaceful."
Mr. Noyd said the police were just doing their job enforcing Walmart's request. He said he didn't want that to take away from the message Friday morning of a living wage for Walmart employees.
Mr. Noyd, and supporters, asked that Walmart pay its employees at least $25,000 with health care benefits they can afford. He said the group's requests to Walmart have been shared across the country in front of dozens of Walmart stores.
David Tovar, vice president of corporate communications for Walmart, said Friday the protesters don't speak for the 1.3 million Walmart associates.
"Press reports are now exposing what we have said all along — the large majority of protesters aren't even Walmart workers," Mr. Tovar wrote via email. "We had our best Black Friday ever and OUR Walmart was unable to recruit more than a small number of associates to participate in these made for TV events."
Today is Monday, March 10, the 69th day of 2014. There are 296 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Numerous counterfeiters are around, taking advantage of the influx of currency to pass their worthless trash. 1889 -- 125 years ago: J.J. Reimers, secretary and treasurer of the Rock Island Lumber and Manufacturing Co., on behalf of that firm, contributed $500 toward construction of a new Methodist church. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Samuel Ryerson, county recorder, was re-elected president of the 19th District of Knights of Pythias. 1939 -- 75 years ago: Three condemnation suits have been filed by the city of Rock Island to acquire property needed for an approach to the Rock Island-Davenport bridge, which has been under construction since March 6. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Plans for an eight-story Sheraton Inn in downtown Rock Island were announced today at a luncheon meeting at the Gay Nineties sponsored by the Rock Island Chamber of Commerce. Cost of the structure is estimated at $2.5 million. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Representatives of the Hardee's Golf Classic and tournament sponsor Hardee's Food Systems may meet next week with PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman to discuss a possible change in the tournament dates.