Originally Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2012, 11:09 pm
Last Updated: Nov. 24, 2012, 12:45 am

Police intervene in Davenport Walmart protest

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By Stephen Elliott selliott@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Scott Noyd, a representative with the UFCW Local 431 in Davenport, asks Davenport police officers if a group including members of the Sisters of Humility, Quad City Interfaith, and Progressive Action for the Common Good can hold a prayer vigil at the the Davenport Wal-Mart on West Kimberly Road on Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. Officers escorted the group off the Wal-Mart property to a grassy area on a frontage road to the property. The event was part of a nationwide effort to organize Wal-Mart employees and protest the corporation's management tactics that protestors say include 'exploitation of state and federal funded programs (such as food stamps and Medicaid) to support their underpaid workforce.'

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."