Dominic Ware, 26, is the first Walmart employee in the Bay Area to go on strike, and this Wednesday, he’s walking from his store in San Leandro to the Oakland store hoping to build courage among other workers to join the labor campaign against the largest employer in third-largest employer in the world. Ware is a member of OUR Walmart, the labor organization that led historic walkouts of warehouse and store employees and a national Black Friday strike last year. On June, OUR Walmart will bring workers from around the country to the company’s Bentonville headquarters on a Ride for Respect.
Against this backdrop, Ware talks to Tram Nguyen about his journey from the streets to Walmart, to becoming a labor activist. Currently a philosophy student at Laney College, Ware will be making stops on his march at Oakland schools to share his story with young people of color, many of whom will face few options in the economy but to work for Walmart. “Whether you’re in a community that Walmart’s in, whether you work at Walmart, whether you shop at Walmart, it’s affecting all of us,” Ware says. “We all feel the effects of this low-price, poverty living. It’s destroying communities and it’s destroying families.”
Tell me about your background.
I’m Oakland born and raised, 98th Avenue, Brookville Village. I come from a family of nine, single mother. Yeah, just a blessed kid growing up in Oakland. A place that didn’t have a lot of men to look up to. So I was a young boy, just learning how to be a man in a land that didn’t have too many good resources or good examples of what a man should be.
We didn’t have a lot, and basically, just had food in my Grammy’s house, but sometimes in my mom’s house the refrigerator would be empty. So just growing up being from a low-income family, in high school you know, that’s when it really affects you. I’d go to school hungry sometimes, my mom was real sick, by the time I was in the 10th grade. She couldn’t even take care of herself. Just having to deal with that, to become a man so fast, or what I thought was a man, to take care of myself, my younger brother and my mother—it was just a lot. And I kind of started getting high a lot, just hanging out with my friends, trying to smoke the problems away. I fell into the streets. I thought that was it, I didn’t see no other way out from what I was going through except for the streets.
How did you end up working at Walmart?
One day I went through something that really changed my life. Somebody I was involved with had a gun pulled on him. Without me even thinking about it, I jumped in front of the gun. I didn’t even think about it, I just couldn’t stand there and see somebody else get hurt. That’s when the streets got real for me. And I really woke up and figured out that the streets weren’t for me. I changed my life around, started going back to church, trying to be faithful. My money was still stagnant, actually getting worse ‘cause I wasn’t hustling, but by the grace of God I just kept going to church and focusing on it. I ended up landing a job at Walmart and considered myself pretty much blessed because of my background. I just recently got out of jail for a charge, so I thought I wasn’t going to get the job, but I got the job. And I was just very grateful, when I first started working there 40 hours a week. And I had a set schedule, ‘cause I got on about Christmas time so they needed me. The first two and a half months, it was good.
When did things go wrong?
After that, they called me into the office and told me they had to change my schedule around, cut my hours down to 12. And a few months later they cut it down by six, and it just got to the point when they needed me, they would call me in but other than that I just get the scraps. I started to get depressed with my life, with my working situation. I was trying to get away from the streets but it seemed like the streets were following me into Walmart. I would walk past managers and it would be a sense of them trying to intimidate me, like a drug dealer or police officer looking at me crazy. I tried to bring it up with my store manager at the time about the respect issue. She said she was going to fix it, but she didn’t.
I was about ready to quit, and a few weeks later, I met a wonderful organizer in OUR Walmart and she introduced me to the game, what’s going on, and told me about the team that was fighting to make change at Walmart. When I heard that I fell in love with the idea, what OUR Walmart was, I was ready to sign up then and there. I signed up that very day and I’ve been a proud member/leader for a year and a half. I went on strikes, speaking and standing up for those who cannot risk being fired. I just put my life on the line, ‘cause like I said I come from the streets. Through my youth, I’ve never backed down, I always took on challenges—and this is one of the biggest challenges of our time, not just for me, not just for black people, not just for Oakland people, for people in general in this country.
Tell me what you will be doing with the march, and is it the first time that a Bay Area Walmart worker will be striking?
Yes ma’am. Last year, I went on strike for Black Friday, to show my fellow associates that we shouldn’t be scared. Now I’m taking it a little further. This time I’m taking it another step forward, and I’m doing a march from my store, in San Leandro, to the store in Oakland, and a walk back to not only show the people in my store but the people in Oakland that it’s time to stop talking and start walking. We see all these things wrong in our community, in our workplace, we need to stop talking about it and start taking action. I’m hoping that its going to get people fired up, and touch people in places that words couldn’t touch them.
What would you ask of your fellow coworkers and the communities you’re walking through, as you’re taking on this walk?
I have to say my request would be, to join the movement. Join us. Whether you’re in a community that Walmart’s in, whether you work at Walmart, whether you shop at Walmart, it’s affecting all of us. We all feel the effects of this low-price, poverty living. It’s destroying communities and it’s destroying families. Walmart is one of the leading employers of this country. Imagine how many families they affect. I just want anybody that hears this message, to please come join us and lets force Walmart to change and be better to their workers and their communities
Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. For guidelines, see: http://oaklandlocal.com/tos