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At first, William Fletcher, a soul-patched, wisecracking 24-year-old who works in the electronics department at the Walmart in Duarte, California, couldn’t believe what the stranger with the clipboard standing outside his front door was telling him. The guy was describing a new group called Organization United for Respect at Walmart, which was recruiting employees like Fletcher to demand higher wages, better benefits, and less-punishing work schedules. Fletcher liked what he heard, but was skeptical. He’d recently settled a bitter dispute with management over a knee injury. “Frankly, I was convinced it was Walmart sending someone over to trick me into signing something to get me fired,” he says.
He told the guy he wasn’t interested, but another organizer came knocking the next day. This OUR Walmart thing must be real, Fletcher thought. He signed up but didn’t dare tell anyone, and for months the fear of being found out gnawed at him. And with good reason: Walmart strongly discourages the 1.4 million “associates” at its 4,601 US stores from organizing. The company has been known to shutter whole departments and even entire stores where unions make inroads. The result: The average associate earns $8.81 an hour, and many rely on food stamps and Medicaid.