In response to a Univision report that outlined a disturbing array of hate-fueled attacks at Walmart stores in recent months, the company defended itself Thursday, expressing “disappointment” over the unpleasant experiences suffered by its customers.
But the largest retail union in the country told Univision the company is not doing enough to protect and support the workers who are the victims of such attacks.
Walmart did not question any of Univision’s reporting for the story, which was published Monday and documented incidents of hate and bias as part of a project to understand the scope of hate across the United States. The company originally declined to comment for the article.
“One of our core beliefs is respect for all individuals. We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” Randy Hargrove, Walmart’s senior director of national media relations, told Univision. “We have no tolerance for inappropriate language or disrespectful actions like those highlighted in this story.”
Walmart serves over 150 million customers in the U.S. each week. “Many of them are Latino and represent all walks of life,” Hargrove said. “Instances like those reported in [the] story are not an indication of the vast majority of customers who shop with us every day.”
On Monday, Univision described reports of 35 incidents at Walmarts received by Documenting Hate, a project led by ProPublica that is tracking hate around the country since the presidential election. Univision is a partner in the project.
Since Univision’s story ran, at least seven additional people have reported hate and bias incidents at Walmart to Documenting Hate. Those incidents involve verbal harassment or threats due to a person’s race, religion or ethnicity, or because they were speaking a language other than English.
Attacks on workers
A number of Walmart employees told Univision they were unsure how to respond when customers exhibited hateful behavior – and especially when it was directed at them. In at least three instances, employees told Univision they felt they were not adequately supported by their employer when a customer targeted them.
On Thursday, Hargrove declined to provide specifics about Walmart’s employee training and whether that includes mention of hate, bias or discrimination. Nor did he specifically address whether the company has a protocol for when its own employees are the target of hateful attacks. “Associates are trained to address sensitive situations to try to defuse them without further escalation,” he said.
“It’s disappointing anytime it’s brought to our attention that anyone has had an unpleasant experience in one of our stores,” Hargrove said. “We value our customers and associates, and we want to take care of everyone in our stores.”
Randy Parraz, the director of the union-associated campaign Making Change at Walmart (MCAW), told Univision Thursday that it is “unacceptable” that the country’s largest employer of African American and Latino workers does not appear to have a policy to respond to hateful attacks against them.
MCAW is primarily backed by the retail and service union, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million U.S. workers. (It does not count Walmart employees among its members; the company is strongly anti-union.)
“Given the current climate, Walmart should be ahead of this,” Parraz said. “They saw Charlottesville. They can see what’s going on. This is something they should be prepared for when it comes to the demographics of their workforce.”
“The worker should feel they have support,” he added.