MEMPHIS — In a scene reminiscent of the mythical Festivus holiday from Seinfeld, Santa stood on the sidewalk in front of Walmart Monday airing his grievances.
Actually, there were eight Santas, and they had one particular grievance: holiday pay.
Monday's coordinated event outside the Cordova Walmart Super Center was part of 13-city, 11-state effort to highlight the retail giant's policy regarding holiday compensation. It was the only Memphis protest.
Members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1529 participated. The union does not represent employees of Walmart, which is not unionized.
Holding signs and chanting, the boisterous group of Santa-clad demonstrators — one wore a Grinch mask along with a Santa costume — got waves and honks from the passing traffic.
According to a statement from the group Making a Change at Walmart (MCAW), which staged the event in conjunction with the UFCW local, Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart eliminated holiday pay for hourly employees in 2016. It was replaced with a Paid Time Off (PTO) policy under which workers accrue time off based on hours worked, according to the statement.
UFCW spokeswoman Amy Ritter said Walmart conveniently glossed over the loss of additional pay for employees who work holidays. Walmart stores are not open on Christmas Day.
"Holiday pay, for those who work on the holiday," typically includes a premium above and beyond what they are paid hourly," the joint MCAW-UFCW statement said. "And, in the case of many union retail workers, they are given holiday pay even if they don't work that day."
Walmart said the statements are an inaccurate characterization of a change made in response to employee feedback.
"Walmart's Paid Time Off program is designed to give associates more stability in their lives," the statement reads. "Both full- and part-time associates receive a paid day for each Walmart holiday, and it's important that our people have the control and flexibility to decide how they use that extra paid time. At the end of each year, hourly associates can roll over some unused PTO and can cash out the remainder to use as they please."
Chad Smith, business representative for UFCW Local 1529, was one of the protesting Santas. He read the following statement:
"Today, shoppers, lawmakers, workers, allies and activists joined together outside of Walmart, the largest private employer in the nation, to demand better for our community and working families.
"Holiday pay is something Walmart workers have earned and deserved; taking it away from 1.5 million working Americans does not reflect the spirit of the holiday season. And as one of the most prominent symbols of generosity during the holidays, who better to stand up for workers and protest Walmart's 'no holiday pay' policy than Santa Claus himself?"
The Santa protest outside select Walmart sites was the second phase. During Thanksgiving, MCAW passed out informational fliers in seven cities in six states.They also aired a 30-second commercial during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Follow Ron Maxey on Twitter: @rmaxey1