NEW YORK – A junior Walmart Inc. employee organized a one-day strike and other actions to protest the retailer’s stance on gun sales in the wake of shootings at two of its stores in recent weeks.
Thomas Marshall, a 23-year-old category manager in Walmart’s San Bruno, California-based e-commerce business, sent an email blast to the entire division that asked employees to call in sick Tuesday, leave work early on Wednesday, and sign a Change.org petition that urges the company to stop selling firearms and ammunition.
Marshall said he has received a “considerable amount of support,” with about 30 employees actively involved so far. It’s unclear how many decided to stay home from work Tuesday.
He said his manager and a company human-resources representative have spoken to him, but that hasn’t deterred his plans for Tuesday’s “sickout” and a walkout on Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m Pacific time.
Walmart has said it has no such plans to change its policy, and company spokesman Randy Hargrove chided Marshall’s tactics, saying “there are many more constructive avenues for employees to offer feedback.”
Marshall’s actions illustrate the challenges Walmart faces as it becomes a big employer of coastal technology workers, who tend to be younger and more left-leaning than its store and warehouse staff. Walmart is the nation’s largest private employer, with a workforce of 1.5 million. It’s also America’s biggest seller of guns.
“We just politely disagreed on the best way to effect change in a company that we both work for and care about,” Marshall said. “Whether or not it’s something that is done soon or in a while, it is imperative now to begin this dialogue.”
His actions follow a protest by Wayfair Inc. employees in Boston, who walked off the job in late June to protest the online retailer’s sale of beds to contractors furnishing border camps for asylum seekers.
An aspiring author, Marshall plans to email the petition to Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon, who so far hasn’t spoken publicly about the shootings save for an Aug. 3 Instagram post that said “my heart aches” for El Paso, where 22 people were killed at a Walmart over the weekend. A week earlier, two employees of a Walmart in Mississippi were killed by a gunman whom authorities described as a disgruntled former worker.
“If there’s opportunity for us to share our voice, you have seen that Doug is willing to do that,” Hargrove said.
McMillon must now must walk a fine line of listening to the concerns of employees like Marshall who support more gun control measures, while maintaining the company’s stance on sales. Walmart doesn’t disclose how much revenue it generates from guns and ammunition sales.
“For Walmart, the second amendment is a principled battle line and it’s willing to suffer the political blowback from Americans outraged by gun violence,” said Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants, a crisis public relations firm. “Walmart will want to show respect for the rights of its employees, but also remain unchanged in its policy toward selling firearms.”
Walmart’s gun policies have changed over time. Last year, the company raised the minimum age for gun purchases to 21 from 18. In 2015 Walmart stopped selling what the company calls “modern sporting rifles,” which generally refers to military-style semi-automatic rifles.
“We have made great strides already, but now we must organize to shape this company into a place we can all be proud of,” Marshall said in his email to colleagues. “As associates, we have the power, ability, and opportunity to change this company for the better.”
As of 3:26 p.m. in New York, the Change.org petition had 59 signatures.
Business Insider earlier reported on Marshall’s actions.