At Yahoo’s annual shareholders meeting in Santa Clara, Calif., protesting Walmart employees again made a plea for Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to meet with them.
“Five days ago, Walmart illegally terminated me,” said Miriam Roberti during the portion of the Tuesday meeting when shareholders were able to ask questions. “Walmart appeared to deny our basic right to freedom of speech, so I have to ask you: are you going to bring Yahoo values to Walmart, or Walmart values to Yahoo? … Will you please meet with us?”
“I’m sorry,” Mayer replied. “Because what we’re here to address is Yahoo business.” She gave a nearly identical reply twice more over the remainder of the meeting, to two other Walmart employees who rose to speak: “Again, there’s a time and place for all types of business. The business here this morning that we’re here to conduct is around Yahoo.”
Mayer sits on the board of directors for Walmart, which held its own shareholders meeting two weeks ago in Fayetteville, Ark. In the days leading up to the meeting, about 100 Walmart employees involved with the ongoing OUR Walmart labor campaign went on strike and traveled down to Arkansas to demand higher wages and better working conditions. OUR Walmart organizers now claim that 36 workers have been fired or otherwise disciplined in retaliation for the strike, which only added to their desire to reach out to Mayer.
“This right now is a dire situation where she can show her true leadership,” said Feng Kung of Jobs with Justice San Francisco, a member of the coalition backing up Walmart protestors. Echoing Roberti, he asked whether Mayer “would bring these more progressive Silicon Valley values to Walmart, or is she bringing Walmart values to Yahoo.”
In addition to having proxies ask questions as a formal part of the shareholders meeting, some 26 OUR Walmart members and supporters protested outside the meeting. The day before, 30 protesters visited the Yahoo campus to request a meeting with Mayer. Five workers who refused to leave the Yahoo headquarters lobby were subsequently arrested. Kung said that there would be more protests to come: this Saturday, OUR Walmart supporters will gather outside Mayer’s penthouse to again request a meeting.
OUR Walmart has been trying to get Mayer’s attention since April 2012, when she first joined Walmart’s board of directors. But in over a year, the labor group has received “no response, not even a no,” said Barbara Collin, a Walmart employee who was both among those arrested on Monday and one of the questioners on Tuesday.
By targeting a specific, prominent shareholder, OUR Walmart is adopting the elements of the “corporate campaign” strategy used by many labor unions in recent decades as part of a comprehensive organization strategy. Corporate campaigns are research-based attempts to exploit vulnerabilities in a targeted company’s finances and corporate leadership. For the Walmart campaign, OUR Walmart and the backing union UFCW are publicly going after a highly visible board member with a reputation for progressive reforms at her own company.
“She has the power of just picking up the phone and saying, ‘Hello, stop firing people who went out on strike. Stop retaliating,’” said Collins. “It’s that simple.”
A spokesperson for Yahoo declined to comment.