The sun beat down on protesters, policemen and curious shoppers alike as a crowd of roughly 100 people gathered outside the Wal-Mart in Paramount on Wednesday to call for better wages for store employees.
The event was planned by several labor groups, including Our Walmart and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. Organizers called it a precursor to the holidays and accused Wal-Mart of paying low wages and manipulating workers' schedules in retaliation for labor activism.
They said roughly 20 workers were on strike from six Southern California stores; other participants included employees on their days off and a large contingent of Northern California workers who were bused down.
The group marched, in pairs, in a long line in front of the building, taking care to avoid the front doors. They cycled through slogans – "Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart, you're no good, treat your workers like you should" – yelling some in Spanish through megaphones.
Some customers were sympathetic – but also unnerved by the commotion.
Lynwood nurse Angelica Lara, 25, said she "was going to drive off" when she saw the protest.
"I didn't know exactly what was going on, and I didn't want to get involved," she said.
She ultimately parked on the far edge of the lot and entered the store through a side door. Exiting with a cart full of groceries, water and dog food, she accepted a flier from a protester.
"They must be striking for a reason," Lara said. "If workers aren't satisfied, they have a right – everyone does – to protest."
Protesters say that Wal-Mart has roughly 825,000 workers who earn less than $25,000 a year.
Company spokesman Kory Lundberg said that Wal-Mart has seen such protests "over and over again," despite the chain's repeated assurances that its workers receive quarterly performance-based bonuses, have access to retirement and healthcare benefits and are given discounts on merchandise.
The company, he said, promotes 430 workers a day on average nationwide. He said Wal-Mart has 13,000 associates serving more than 170,000 customers weekly in Los Angeles County.
Organizers said they plan to draw some 700 activists to the new Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in Chinatown on Thursday to continue the protest.
Richard Reynoso, 20, said he not only plans to attend Thursday's event but also expects to be arrested for failing to disperse.
Reynoso, clad in a cape and armed with a megaphone, said he normally works as an overnight stocker in the Duarte store but is on leave after having surgery on his knee.
He's attended more than a dozen protests, he said. Managers began sporadically cutting his hours, he said.
"I believe a lot of associates are scared," he said. "Management is intimidating everyone. I'm the one that's brave enough to show they can't silence me."