MILFORD -- Police last Friday broke up a protest by more than two dozen healthcare workers outside the Walmart store here in support of store workers toiling long hours on the busiest shopping day of the year.
The protesters, members of the healthcare union for the nearby West River Healthcare Center, marched outside the super store for about 15 minutes shouting, "Down with Walmart, up with the union," until police arrived.
Confronted by two officers, protest organizer Jesse Martin, agreed to move the protest to the street, more than 100 yards from the store.
The local protest was part of a coordinated, nationwide action in support of Walmart employees on Black Friday.
At Connecticut Walmart stores in Milford, Danbury, Norwalk and Hartford, members of District 1199, the state's largest union of healthcare workers, demanded the retail giant improve wages and benefits for workers.
The organization that put together the protests, OUR Walmart "or the organization united for respect at Walmart " claims the retail giant is making record profits on the backs of its employees who received meager wages, little healthcare and are threatened with firing if they complain.
"We are here to support the Walmart workers, to be heard because they cannot be heard, they cannot voice their concerns without worrying about retaliation," said Martin.
A Milford Walmart employee, who said she was afraid of being fired if she gave her name, gave a restrained fist pump as the protesters arrived and began handing out flyers.
In Danbury, About 50 people protested outside the Walmart store on Newtown Road, waving signs and chanting. They began with a march up the parking lot to the storefront, where Walmart staff and members of the Danbury Police Department asked them to leave. They then stashed their signs and pamphlets and walked into the store.
Local activist Justin Molito, holding his 4-year old son Pike's hand, began shouting out a statement of support for Walmart workers inside the store, with his fellow activists repeating his words with equal fervor and volume.
When Molito was about half-way through the statement, Danbury police took him by the arm and marched him out of the store, with the supporters following in their wake.
They then spent the rest of the morning on the sidewalk that runs along Newtown Road, waving signs and getting the occasional car honk of support from people driving by.
"Everything they sell is from China,'' said Fran O'Rourke, one of the protesters. "They want to pay people like they're Chinese workers. This is America.''
Most shoppers at the Milford store tried to ignore the protesters as they rushed into the store seeking bargains. But Mirna Morawski, of Fairfield, stopped and began studying one of the fliers.
"I'm not happy the way Walmart is treating its employees," she said. "They hired a lot of immigrants to work in their stores, but they don't pay them enough to support their families."
The protests took place as the National Labor Relations Board weighs a complaint Walmart filed against the union Nov. 15 accusing it of violating federal labor laws by illegally picketing. The company said the union has tried to force the company to the bargaining table although it does not officially represent its employees.
Walmart asked the board for an investigation and immediate injunction. If the board rules in Walmart's favor, it would seek an injunction in district court to stop the protests.
On Nov. 20, organizers from the nonprofit OUR Walmart fought back by filing their own complaint with the labor board accusing Walmart of intimidating workers. The protesters are demanding more-predictable schedules, less-expensive health-care plans and minimum hourly pay of $13 with the option of working full-time.
Walmart officials have released a statement nationwide acknowledging the protests but maintaining they are not supported by store employees.
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Hearst Connecticut staff writer Bob Miller contributed to this report.