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story.lead_photo.caption A 2017 Associated Press file photo shows the exterior of a Walmart Supercenter.

Dozens of white-collar Walmart employees walked out of their offices Wednesday afternoon for a moment of silence in protest of the retailer's gun policies after recent shootings at two company stores that left 24 people dead.

Employees standing outside the company's San Bruno, Calif., office had said they want the world's largest retailer to stop selling guns and discontinue donations to politicians who receive funding from the National Rifle Association. Walmart sells guns in about half of its 4,750 U.S. stores, making it one of the nation's largest retailers of firearms and ammunition.

Walmart has tightened its gun policies over the years. It stopped selling handguns in 1993 and phased out assault-style rifles in 2015. Last year, it raised the minimum age for gun purchases from 18 to 21, two weeks after 17 students and teachers died in a school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

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The call to action came after a gunman killed 22 people and wounded dozens of others Saturday at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas. Days earlier, a Walmart employee fatally shot two coworkers at a store in Southaven, Miss.

"There's an intense irony that Walmart continues to sell guns despite the constant shootings in its stores," Kate Kesner, an e-commerce employee in San Bruno who helped organize the protest, said in an interview.

Employees at a Portland, Ore., office also had been expected to walk out at 3 p.m. on Wednesday. Organizers also started a petition calling on company executives to stop selling firearms.

Thomas Marshall, a 23-year-old category manager in Walmart's San Bruno e-commerce business, asked employees to call in sick Tuesday, leave work early on Wednesday and sign the petition.

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 would be reactivated once he returns to work, pending a review.

Walmart Inc.'s chief executive Doug McMillon said in a letter to employees Wednesday that he visited El Paso the day before, meeting with store workers who acted courageously during the shooting to help customers escape and treat the wounded.

"Our store in El Paso is well known as a tight-knit community hub for people in the region, where we serve customers from both sides of the border," McMillon said. "I continue to be amazed at the strength and resilience that we find in the diversity of the communities where we live and work."

McMillon said a resource center at the site has counselors available for employees and their families who need emotional support. Workers also can talk one-on-one with their team leaders at the center. "We want to make sure our associates have what they need to get through this difficult time, and to support the response effort and community members," he said.

In a separate news release, the Bentonville retailer said it is giving $400,000 in direct cash grants to two El Paso community foundations that have set up relief funds for victims. In addition, Sam's Club has donated food and water to the family reunification center and three hospitals where shooting victims were treated.

The efforts by Walmart workers are part of a growing wave of worker protests against corporate policies at some of the nation's largest tech and retail companies. Employees at Amazon, Microsoft and Google have called on management officials to stop selling facial-recognition technology and other services to law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. (Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)

In June, hundreds of Wayfair employees walked out to protest the sale of $200,000 worth of furniture to a Texas detention center housing migrant children.

Walmart's store employees have long called on the company to improve pay, benefits and scheduling practices. But this week's efforts are among the first by corporate employees designed to pressure the company to change its practices. Walmart is the nation's largest employer, with 1.5 million workers.

A spokesman for Walmart said the company has encouraged workers to voice their opinions in ways other than a walkout.

"There are more effective channels such as email or leadership conversations," Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said. "The vast majority of our associates who want to share their views are taking advantage of those options."

Information for this article was contributed by Abha Bhattarai of The Washington Post; Matthew Boyle of Bloomberg News; and Serenah McKay of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Business on 08/08/2019

Print Headline: Walmart workers protest gun policy

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