Walmart Employee Who Protested the Retailer’s Gun Sales Says the Company Retaliated Against Him
A Walmart employee has been shut out of the company’s networks after organizing a protest against the retailer’s stance on gun sales.
Thomas Marshall, a 23-year-old category manager in Walmart’s San Bruno, Calif.-based e-commerce business, 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 in the wake of two shootings at the company’s stores in recent weeks.
Marshall said Walmart retaliated by blocking his access to both his corporate Outlook email account and Slack, a workplace collaboration platform where he had originally publicized the protest. Company spokesman Randy Hargrove confirmed that Marshall’s access to networks had been temporarily suspended, and said they’d be reactivated once he returns to work, pending a review.
Walmart has said it has no plans to change its gun-sales policy, and Hargrove chided Marshall’s tactics, saying “there are many more constructive avenues for employees to offer feedback.”
Marshall says the email deactivation hasn’t deterred his plans. “We have been shut out of all systems, essentially ending our jobs without yet firing us,” he said. “We will be seeking legal counsel.”
Kate Kesner, another employee involved in the protest who said her work accounts were also disabled, said she expects “a few hundred” to take part in Wednesday’s walkout. Hargrove said he’s aware of only two people participating on Tuesday—just Marshall and Kesner.
“Though eCommerce makes up a small fraction of Walmart’s total business, we are the future of the company, and we want to signal that we refuse to put up with inhumane policies,” Kesner, 22, said in an email.
The protest illustrates 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’s San Bruno office is right next door to the headquarters of Google’s YouTube, where a San Diego woman opened fire last year, injuring several people before killing herself.
Walmart is the nation’s largest private employer, with a workforce of 1.5 million. It’s also America’s biggest seller of guns.
“Whether or not it’s something that is done soon or in a while, it is imperative now to begin this dialogue,” Marshall said.
His actions follow a protest by Wayfair 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.
Marshall says he 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 who 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 6 p.m. in New York, the Change.org petition had 101 signatures.
Business Insider earlier reported on Marshall’s actions.
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