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Arrests made during LA-area Wal-Mart protest

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POSTED November 24, 2012 1:33 a.m.

PARAMOUNT (AP) — Nine people were arrested for blocking a busy street in front of a Wal-Mart in suburban Los Angeles on Black Friday in one of several protests staged around the country to demand better wages and benefits for employees of the superstore chain.

Authorities said three of the nine people taken into custody were employees of the Paramount Wal-Mart, which was doing a brisk business after the two-hour protest ended. Some shoppers continued to honk their car horns and wave in support of lingering protesters.

As many as 1,000 people took part at the height of the demonstration, including many who arrived in buses, sheriff’s officials estimated.

“A lot more people showed up than I anticipated, but that just shows you the kind of support we have,” said Wal-Mart employee Carlton Smith, one of the demonstrators. “We have a common interest in making this great company better.”

Smith, a 16-year employee, said he was one of 19 workers from the store who staged what they called a one-day strike to bring attention to their complaints.

“We’re asking for them not to retaliate against associates like myself for standing up and speaking out, and also we’re asking for affordable health care and a living wage,” added Smith, who said he is a manager in the housewares department.

Protesters had been assured by the store manager that there would be no retaliation, he said.

The protests in Paramount and elsewhere around the country had little effect, as Wal-Mart stores had their best Black Friday shopping day ever, Wal-Mart spokesman Steve Restivo said.

The chain said its stores sold more than 1.3 million television sets and 250,000 bicycles since its Black Friday shopping sale began at 8 p.m. the night before. Restivo added that 60 percent fewer Wal-Mart employees skipped shifts during this year’s protest than last year.

“Press reports are now exposing what we have said all along — the large majority of protesters aren’t even Wal-Mart workers,” Restivo said in an email.

Smith and other Paramount protesters said they like working for Wal-Mart but have been harassed when they voiced wage and benefit complaints to management.

One protester, Maria Elena Jefferson, said her schedule was cut to 10 hours a week until she applied for unemployment benefits and the company boosted her to 22 hours a week.

The Paramount protest began late Friday morning when hundreds of people gathered in front of the store entrance. They were peaceful and didn’t try to stop anybody from entering, authorities said.

Shortly before noon, hundreds of demonstrators poured into the street in front of the store and blocked traffic, sheriff’s Capt. Mike Parker said, He said the nine people who were taken into custody after ignoring orders to get out of the street had told deputies beforehand that they planned to be arrested.

They were booked on misdemeanor charges of refusing to disperse and were to be cited and released, Parker said.

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