At least three protests and an unknown number of employee walkouts are taking aim at Western Pennsylvania Wal-Marts, opposing the retail giant's plan to roll back Black Friday into Thanksgiving night.
The union-backed employee group OUR Walmart staged similar demonstrations at stores in recent months to protest what it views as poor working conditions, wages and benefits.
United Food and Commercial Workers union officials denied a direct connection.
"The activists are totally unrelated to us, but (UFCW) Local 23 members are going to be out supporting their activities ... in response to the sort of anti-family scheduling going on and the long- standing grievances that Wal-Mart as a company has been trying to silence for years," said Richard Granger, strategic program director for the UFCW Local 23 based in Cecil.
Wal-Mart downplayed the planned protests.
"The reality is that there are only a handful of (employees), at a handful of stores scattered across the country, that are participating in these UFCW made-for-TV events," spokesman Kory Lundberg said. "The overwhelming majority of our 1.3 million (employees) are excited about Black Friday and are ready to serve our customers."
Lundberg added in-store specials will start at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving.
James Craft, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh's Katz School of Business, called the union's claims that it's not involved in OUR Wal-Mart's campaign "baloney."
"They've been trained by, supported by and are basically to some extent an independent front of the UFCW," he said.
Demonstrations could hit about 1,000 of the retailer's 4,500 U.S. stores, including those at Waterworks Mall near Aspinwall, in Collier and in Center, Beaver County, according to Granger and a website for the pro-labor Corporate Action Network in Washington.
The website gives visitors an opportunity to "adopt" or organize an event at one of more than a dozen other area Wal-Marts and Sam's Clubs. It also features campaign materials such as Christmas carols that demonstrators can sing at events, including lyrics to, "I saw Wal-Mart kicking Santa Claus" and "Wal-Mart Sells" to the tune of "Jingle Bells. …