Walmart suddenly closes 5 stores, lays off 2200. Why?

Conspiracy theorists are working overtime to explain why Walmart suddenly closed 5 stores in 3 states this week, laying off 2200 workers. The stores are expected to reopen in 6 months. 

The company claims the closings are releated to ongoing and pervasive plumbing problems. But the conspiracy theorists believe it has more to do with workers who took part in the Black Friday strike than with faulty sewers.

Business Insider:

Wal-Mart employees say they were completely blindsided by the news, having been notified only a couple hours before the stores closed at 7 p.m. Monday.

"Everybody just panicked and started crying," Venanzi Luna, a manager at a store in Pico Rivera, California, told CNN Money. 

All workers will receive paid leave for two months. After that, full-time workers could become eligible for severance, according to CNN Money. But part-time workers will be on their own. 

Local officials and employees have questioned Wal-Mart's reasoning for the closures.

According to ABC News, "no plumbing permits have been pulled in any of the five cities where the stores were suddenly closed for at least six months." The cities where locations were closed include: Brandon, Florida; Pico Rivera, California; Livingston, Texas; Midland, Texas; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

A city official in Pico Rivera confirmed to CBS Los Angeles that the city has not received any permit requests for building repairs.

In Midland, Texas, where another store was closed, a city official told ABC News that his plumbing inspector was turned away when he visited the store and offered to help secure construction permits.

Wal-Mart plumbing technician Codi Bauer, who worked at the now shuttered store in Brandon, Florida, questioned the company's time frame for the repairs.

"Even if they had to replace the whole sewer line, it wouldn't take six months to replace a whole sewer line in that store," he told WFLA

We reached out to Wal-Mart for comment and will update when we hear back. 

A Wal-Mart spokesman told Consumerist that the company had not secured permits "because we have yet to know the full extent of the work that needs to be done. We may also have to do additional upgrades that may require additional permits."

Some employees believe that the stores were closed because of worker protests for higher pay. 

Employees of the Pico Rivera store were among the first to hold Black Friday protests in 2012.

"This is the first store that went on strike," an employee told CBS Los Angeles. "This is the first store in demanding changes for Walmart."

The suddenness of the closings suggests a health issue for workers and customers was at least part of the reason. But Walmart isn't saying much except it has nothing to do with the workers striking on Black Friday:

"We understand this decision has been difficult on our associates and our customers and we aim to reopen these stores as soon as these issues are resolved."

Only one of the five stores took part in the Black Friday strike so it isn't likely that's the main reason for the closings. Or is it?

A lot of people simply aren't buying the company's explanation:

At the Brandon, Fla., location, two plumbing technicians who have worked extensively in that store said they don't buy it, either.

"I've done a lot of maintenance work out there. I go out there and I unclog the drains, but there's been no major problems there. It's all been normal stuff that we do at every store," plumber Codi Bauer said in a WFLA-TV report.

Some skeptics say the company's official reason for the closures simply isn't believable. If plumbing was indeed the reason for the move, they ask, why then is Walmart forcing affected employees to find other jobs -- and making them re-apply for their old positions once the locations reopen?

"I went to the meeting [Tuesday] morning, they would not give me an exact answer to anything," a laid-off worker in Tulsa said in a report by CBS affiliate KOTV-TV.

Another red flag, some say, is the fact that each of the stores seemed to be unusually well-prepared for the closures -- which would not be the case if abrupt plumbing problems triggered the sudden shutdowns.

"They had too many things in place," Florida worker Diane Hill told ABC 10 News in Tampa. "The higher-ups knew. It's us lower folks on the totem pole that didn't know."

Six months is a very long time to close a store and Wal-Mart has to know that most of their most loyal customers will find someplace else to shop in the meantime. Drawing them back - if they open again - will be problematic. But Walmart is Walmart and they shouldn't have much difficulty in regaining their share of business.

But there is still a lot of mystery surrounding these closings and questions that need to be answered. And employees deserve to know why one day they had a job and were surprised the next day to find themselves unemployed.

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