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  • JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    Nearly 80 people rallied in Sacramento's Cesar Chavez Plaza near City Hall on Thursday afternoon in support of a protest against Wal-Mart, an action repeated in cities around the country.

  • JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    Former Wal-Mart employees Yvette Brown, left, and Norma Dobyns clutch hands at 980 Ninth St. before being arrested at Thursday's protest. Left, Eric Henkel leads protesters at Cesar Chavez Plaza.

  • JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    A stack of signed petitions is left in the revolving door at 980 Ninth St. after a protest against Wal-Mart's labor practices.

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Wal-Mart protesters arrested in Sacramento

Published: Friday, Sep. 6, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Friday, Sep. 6, 2013 - 7:20 am

Nearly 80 people rallied in Sacramento's Cesar Chavez Plaza near City Hall on Thursday afternoon in support of a protest against Wal-Mart, an action repeated in cities around the country.

Shortly before 5:30 p.m. Sacramento police had taken nine protesters into custody after warning repeatedly that they were assembling unlawfully and were in danger of being arrested.

Locally, protesters complained that the giant retailer underpays workers and that it retaliated against employee-activitists pressing for better jobs.

The national event and local events were organized by a group calling itself the Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart.

In Sacramento, protesters carried signs, including some that read, "Stand up for OUR Wal-Mart," and marched from Cesar Chavez Plaza to the state Capitol.

A small group headed to the 900 block of Ninth Street, near the office of Wal-Mart board member Christopher Williams, to deliver a petition. They left the petition outside the building.

"I'm feeling empowered," Barbara Collins, 37, said shortly before she was arrested. "My voice will be heard."

Collins said she was fired as a Wal-Mart sales associate at the Placerville store in retaliation for her activism. She said she was fired along with some others nationally who had engaged in protests.

Members of the group claimed that Wal-Mart had improperly fired more than 80 employees nationally for leaving their jobs to appear at a Wal-Mart shareholders meeting in Bentonville, Ark., in June. They demanded the retailer restore their jobs.

A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart disagreed with the perspective.

"We believe that OUR Wal-Mart, which is a subsidiary of the United Food & Commercial Workers union, hosted these made-for-TV stunts to try to garner attention to their cause," Brooke Buchanan, a company spokeswoman, said late Thursday.

"Very few Wal-Mart associates participated," she said. "The rest were union organizers or professional organizers, and they don't represent the majority of the 1.3 million Wal-Mart workers across the country."

Councilman Steve Cohn also joined the protest. Several state lawmakers spoke at the rally or awaited the marchers at the Capitol.

Cohn tweeted a photo from the event. Cohn, who is running for state Assembly, voted two weeks ago to ease restrictions on big-box superstores in the city, opening the door for chains such as Wal-Mart to open more stores in Sacramento.

Cohn said he supports the effort by Wal-Mart employees to organize and said, "there are different ways to address the issue of Wal-Mart mistreating its employees."

He rejected the notion that his involvement in the protest represented an inconsistency with his recent voting record.

"We had an ordinance in place (that regulated big-box stores). Other cities don't, and we were losing tax dollars and revenue," he said. "That's really more an issue of the city's economy, rather than saying we're for or against Wal-Mart."

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