‘Elves’ protest Walmart wages

The Blue Cell Rebel Elves protested low wages, poor benefits and imported goods in front Walmart in North Charleston on Friday. Brenda Rindge/staff

NORTH CHARLESTON - While many people were spending their hard earned cash on Black Friday deals, a group of local progressives protested what they called low wages and poor benefits paid to some workers at one of the nation’s largest discount chains.

The group, wearing blue Santa hats and holding signs at Walmart on the corner of Rivers Avenue and Ashley Phosphate, calls themselves the Blue Cell Rebel Elves.

“We are protesting because working people are not getting the wages they should be getting,” said George Hopkins of the S.C. Progressive Network. “They are not being paid a living wage and that hurts all of us. We all wind up subsidizing Walmart through our taxes for them paying these low wages.”

In April, Walmart agreed to a starting rate of $9 per hour that will rise to $10 per hour in February, but that does not apply to all employees, officials said. The protesters want starting pay to be $15 an hour.

Protests were also staged Friday in front of Walmarts in Detroit, Washington, D.C., and other cities across the country.

Walmart officials did not respond to a request for comment.

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The local protesters, who are also upset because Walmart imports many of its items, represented several progressive groups.

“This is an annual holiday project that the progressive community in Charleston takes on,” said organizer William J. Hamilton. “We put on demonstrations and activities throughout the region trying to focus our holiday on authentic community, American values and social justice affairs. We’re not asking for something radical.”

The group has also protested at Walmarts in Mount Pleasant, West Ashley and Tanger Outlet, and marched down King Street during Second Sunday, Hamilton said.