Marissa Mayer draws a packed house, but outside …

It wasn’t just standing-room-only when Marissa Mayer took the stage Wednesday afternoon at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference: It was pushing-and-shoving-out-to-the-very-edges-of-the-room-only. The place was so packed that security guards had to keep shooing conference-goers away from the stairwells where they hoped to perch.

But outside the San Francisco Design Center Concourse was another, much smaller group of people who also wanted to see the Yahoo CEO — but who claim she’s been ducking them.

The dozen-odd protestors described themselves as ex-employees of retail giant Walmart, on whose board Mayer sits. One man, George Finegan, said the group is concerned about the fate of 80 Walmart workers who were fired after a summer protest at the company’s Arkansas headquarters. Finegan said the protest was to call attention to unsafe working conditions.

Another woman told me she’d been fired from Walmart’s Pleasanton store after striking to protest pay inequities. “We’ve sent out several messages and e-mails” to Mayer, she said. “We’ve gone to a Yahoo shareholder’s meeting, and she’s been unresponsive. People are losing their jobs.”

Ironically, jobs were a big part of the conversation inside, where Mayer told interviewer Michael Arrington that Yahoo gets 12,000 applications every day week — equal to the size of the company’s entire payroll. She also said about 10 percent of the people the Web pioneer has hired in the past year were ex-Yahoo employees.

Arrington earlier teased Mayer about her recent glamour shoot in Vogue, and the Walmart protestors had brought along their own outsized version of the magazine cover, with the text doctored to read: “OUR Walmart challenges Mayer to end illegal retaliation.” (OUR is an acronym for Organization United for Respect; the people I spoke to said the ex-workers are allied with a number of labor groups, and they’ve put together a website detailing their beefs at

Arrington didn’t ask (and probably didn’t know) about the labor union protest, but he did press Mayer on how Yahoo is fighting government demands for user information. Mayer noted that the company has lost a lawsuit on the matter and has no choice for now but to comply.

That said, Mayer said Yahoo “scrutinizes” each request and “pushes back a lot.” She argued that working with the feds actually ensures her users better protection.

But when Arrington, a Stanford-educated lawyer, asked for details, Mayer declined. The records requests, she said, are classified, “and releasing classified information is treason.”


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