In a surprise announcement Monday, Walmart revealed it was closing two stores in Texas, and three others in California, Florida, and Oklahoma, for six months for "extended repairs" to plumbing. Some 2,200 employees were told they would be out of work just hours before the stores shut their doors around 7pm, CNNMoney reports. "Everybody just panicked and started crying," says a manager at one of the closed stores in Pico Rivera, Calif., who wonders whether the closure is actually punishment for employee protests for higher pay. Some employees from other closed locations are also suspicious, though a Walmart rep tells the Consumerist plumbing is the problem and "we aim to reopen these stores as soon as these issues are resolved."
"This is the first time we're hearing of their sewer problems," says Pico Rivera's city manager. The Pico Rivera store was a hub of the pro-union OUR Walmart movement and the first to stage a walkout over wages in 2012. A plumbing technician at the now-closed Brandon, Fla., location tells WFLA that "it wouldn't take six months to replace a whole sewer line in that store." WFTS reports that Walmart hasn't applied for plumbing permits in any of the five affected cities; Walmart says that's because it isn't yet sure what repairs are necessary. Workers, who can attempt to transfer to another location, will be on paid leave for just two months. Full-time workers may be eligible for severance if they don't find another Walmart post before June 19, but that's not an option for part-time employees.