By Lisa Baertlein and Jessica Wohl
LOS ANGELES/CHICAGO (Reuters) - Walmart employees affiliated with a union-backed group walked off the job in Los Angeles on Thursday, protesting conditions at the world's largest retailer, which promptly defended itself, saying the "publicity stunt" was not having an impact on its business.
About 50 workers from nine stores in Los Angeles County walked off the job Thursday morning to protest what they say are unfair labor practices by Wal-Mart Stores Inc, sponsors of the action said. The company disputes those numbers and is aware of fewer than five people who left their posts, Walmart spokesman Dan Fogleman said.
Workers in the group, called OUR Walmart, told Reuters they were participating in a one-day strike. Walmart referred to the event as a rally.
Dan Hindman, 28, protested that the roughly 25 hours he is scheduled to work each week are not enough to cover expenses, including thousands of dollars in medical costs related to his son's asthma.
"I can't pay the bills because I don't have enough hours to pay the bills," said Hindman, who wants to work full-time. He and others said Walmart has retaliated against outspoken workers by cutting their hours.
The striking workers were joined by dozens of other protesters near a Walmart in the Los Angeles suburb of Pico Rivera.
OUR Walmart, which has called for changes at Walmart for more than a year, says that thousands of workers in most U.S. states back its efforts. The group receives support from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, or UFCW, whose members work at grocery stores that compete with Walmart.
Protesters donned bright green shirts and held signs with slogans such as "I want to work full time" during the event, which comes after five employees who are part of OUR Walmart voiced their concerns to Wall Street analysts on Monday.
"There's nothing new nor historic that labor unions want to organize Walmart associates," company spokesman Fogleman said. "This rally is just the latest publicity stunt by the UFCW to seek media attention in order to further their political agenda and financial objectives."
Walmart's wages and benefits typically meet or exceed those at the majority of its competitors, including unionized stores, Fogleman added.
Wal-Mart employs roughly 1.4 million people in the United States. The Walmart U.S. division is the company's largest unit, accounting for more than $264 billion in sales last year.
Walmart has 29 stores in the Los Angeles area where it has more than 12,000 employees, Fogleman said.
"Our stores in the community are staffed up, they're open for business as usual today and this event is not a factor," he said.
It was not immediately clear whether the protest was having any impact on sales at the store where it was being held.
Walmart is not planning to take any disciplinary action against workers participating in such legal events, but those who skip shifts will not be paid for the time they are away from their jobs, Fogleman said.
(Editing by Richard Chang and Leslie Gevirtz)