(Reuters) - Police have arrested 23 people outside a Los Angeles-area Walmart protesting what they say are the company's low wages and its retaliation against employees who pushed for better working conditions, organizers and a police spokesman said on Friday.
The arrests on Thursday evening were the culmination of several hours of protest by a number of Walmart workers in California, according to labor group The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, or UFCW.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the owner of Walmart and other retail brands and the largest private employer in the United States, has been a target for activists in the contentious national debate over proposals to raise the minimum wage.
About 30 workers entered a Walmart store in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles on Thursday morning and held a sit-down protest for two hours, UFCW spokesman Marc Goumbri said on Friday.
The workers then protested at a Walmart store in Pico Rivera in eastern Los Angeles where the arrests eventually took place.
"Over the last year, Walmart workers have pressured Walmart to change its pregnancy policy, provide access to more hours and most recently to pledge to phase out its minimum wage jobs," the UFCW said on its website.
"They (Walmart) retaliated against vocal workers standing up for better wages and worker conditions," the UFCW said.
The 23 people arrested were cited for failure to disperse and then released, Sergeant Raymond Cardenas of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office in Pico Rivera said, adding that protesters had been blocking an intersection.
Asked about the workers' complaints, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said the company does not retaliate against workers who strike or protest.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc Chief Executive Douglas McMillon last month said the company would work to phase out minimum wage jobs "over time", a move seen as largely symbolic as just 6,000 of its 1.3 million U.S. workers make minimum wage.
The average full-time hourly wage at Walmart stores is $12.92, compared with the federal minimum wage of $7.25, according to the company. Some cities in the United States have raised minimum wage to $11 an hour and higher.
(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago; Editing by Susan Heavey)