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Publish Date: 3/19/2005

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Ryszard Tomtas has ended his hunger strike after eight days.Times-Call News Group/Douglas Van Reeth

Hunger striker taken to hospital
Man ends 8-day protest of Wal-Mart


LOVELAND — After eight days without food, Ryszard Tomtas ended his hunger strike Thursday against Wal-Mart.

Tomtas spent day and night in front of the Loveland Wal-Mart Distribution Center since March 10 to protest being fired from the center last week for, he claims, trying to form a union at the center.

Tomtas, 46, drank only water during his eight-day hunger strike.

But after severe stomach cramps Thursday night — and a gentle reminder from his wife — Tomtas decided to end his hunger strike and his protest.

“I promised my wife I wouldn’t sacrifice my health,” Tomtas said from his home Friday. “I felt so sick, but I was ready to go back. She said, ‘No way. You stay here.’”

Tomtas worked at the Loveland Wal-Mart Distribution Center for the past 12 years. He was fired March 8 for — as his supervisors reportedly told him — “horseplay.”

Tomtas claims that Wal-Mart fired him not for “pretend fighting” with a co-worker, but because he signed a union authorization card in December and because the union notified Wal-Mart last month that Tomtas would try to organize a union at the center.

During his protest, he sat in a chair near the parking lot entrance during the day and slept in his car or a camper at night. Tomtas asked people to support him by bringing water.

“I’m so thankful for those people who supported me,” he said. “From the whole Wal-Mart, the 900 people working over there, I received one bottle of water.”

Tomtas “gave out” around 5:30 Thursday evening. He’s now weaning himself off his fast with applesauce, grated vegetables and tea. Tomtas has lost 15 pounds and now weights 150.

“That’s my exact weight when I came here from Poland 17 years ago,” he said with a laugh.

Tomtas came to Loveland in 1988 with his wife and son, all refugees because of his involvement with Poland’s Solidarity movement in the 1980s.

Now he plans to pursue wrongful termination charges against Wal-Mart through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the National Labor Relations Board.

John Bowen, an attorney with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, said the union filed charges Monday against Wal-Mart. Tomtas is scheduled to meet with labor board representatives early next week.

Tomtas said Wal-Mart officials never contacted him during his eight-day protest.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Christi Gallagher said Friday that Tomtas was fired for violating Wal-Mart’s policy on workplace violence, not because he was trying to organize the distribution center employees.

Gallagher said she could not provide details on personnel matters, “especially one where he is claiming to initiate legal action. We will address those allegations in the appropriate forum.

“This is simply an unfortunate situation in which this former associate decided to take extreme measures in an attempt to draw attention to himself.”

Tomtas said if he had gone on a hunger strike in communist Poland 20 years ago, entire churches would have shown up to pray with him, and crowds would have gathered to support him.

 

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