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Wal-Mart protesters hit Hammond, Hobart stores

Hobart Police Det. Dave Evans (far right) Sgt. Ken Gagliardi (second from right) tell group activists gathered parking lot outside

Hobart Police Det. Dave Evans (far right) and Sgt. Ken Gagliardi (second from right) tell a group of activists gathered in the parking lot outside Wal-Mart that they have to move from private property to the median if they want to hand out flyers in Hobart, Ind. Friday November 23, 2012. The activists, representing Purdue Calumet Social Justice Club, Interfaith Coalition on Workers Rights and Cultural District Organizing Project, were part of nationwide action in support of Wal-Mart workers' rights. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 25, 2012 6:18AM



HOBART — Protests against retail juggernaut Wal-Mart were small and quick, yet still very much present, in Northwest Indiana Friday as shoppers continued their holiday buying.

Managers at the Hobart and Hammond stores were ready for any disruptions, said Jonathon Wilson, a member of Purdue University Calumet’s Social Justice Club and one of 10 people participating in two protests against Wal-Mart’s practices of paying low wages and keeping employees from speaking out against conditions Friday morning. He and part of the group hit the Hammond store at 8:30 a.m. and were immediately met with Wal-Mart brass.

“We walked into the store, and the manager was standing there waiting for us,” Wilson said. “He didn’t let us inside.”

Wilson’s group fared marginally better at the Hobart Wal-Mart after joining up with protesters from Trinity United Church of Christ and the Cultural District Organizing Project, both of Gary. Armed with flyers and petitions, the group got through the door and talked to a few people before management asked them to leave.

They would’ve stayed outside close to the doors, but Hobart Detective Dave Evans and Officer Ken Gagliardi told the group they would need to step off Wal-Mart’s property and protest on public land — near U.S. 30 and Colorado Street.

“Wal-Mart was aware of Black Friday protests,” said Oscar Varnadoe with Trinity United, who’s protested Wal-Mart — particularly stores coming into Chicago — for the last four years. “But we weren’t there to be confrontational. We could’ve been, but we weren’t this time.”

Wilson and Varnadoe agreed that despite the quick escorts out, the protesters were able to reach about 60 shoppers with their message: Low wages feed into low prices, and Wal-Mart employees suffer because of it.

“I don’t think people have a disconnect (in that regard),” Wilson said. “With the economy as bad as it is, it’s not that people don’t care. They just have no other choice.”

In Chicago, about 50 people hit the Loop to protest low retail and restaurant wages. Protesters entered Macy’s on State Street — followed closely by security — chanting, “We can’t survive on $8.25!” as surprised shoppers look on.

Members of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, which spokesmen say formed just last week, are demanding a $15-an-hour wage.

“We are basically here to let people know what’s been going on has been going on too long and has to cease,” said Sartoria Briggs, 22, from Riverdale, Ill. “This is corporate greed, where money goes all the way up to the top and never comes down.”

Briggs, who works has a beauty adviser at Macy’s on State Street, says she makes $10.50 an hour.

“We have those extravagant windows and that extravagant tree. They take pride in their store and not in their employees,” she said.

Startled shoppers, some sipping their Starbucks coffee, watched as protesters wound through the store, past the jewelry counter.

A little shoving match ensued as one shopper yelled, “Get out of the store!” and was met by angry protesters, who got in his face and yelled, “We can’t survive on $8.25!”

Sun-Times Media contributed to this story.



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