Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), hoping to head off worker protests at its stores over the Thanksgiving holiday, filed an unfair-labor-practice complaint against a union the company says is behind the protest plans.
The complaint, which Wal-Mart filed Thursday against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, asks the National Labor Relations Board to issue an injunction against worker rallies and pickets that have been staged at Wal-Mart stores and warehouses across the country for at least the last six months.
The protesting workers, who complain of low wages, short hours and poor working conditions, are members of OUR Walmart, or Organization United for Respect at Walmart, which was started in 2010 with financial support and advice from the UFCW. The union has been involved in previous efforts to represent Wal-Mart workers.
The union says that today OUR Walmart is “its own nonprofit organized by Wal-Mart workers and funded through dues that are voluntarily contributed,” said UFCW spokeswoman Jill Cashen.
OUR Walmart has called for protests at 1,000 Wal-Mart stores on the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, which is one of Wal-Mart’s busiest shopping days.
Wal-mart says OUR Walmart is seeking union recognition and so by federal law can protest for only 30 days before collecting signatures to hold an employee vote, which it hasn’t done. “We cannot allow the UFCW to continue to intentionally seek to create an environment that could directly and adversely impact our customers and associates,” said David Tovar, a Wal-Mart spokesman.
OUR Walmart says that the protests aren’t supporting unionization but are rather drawing attention to retaliation workers say they experience when they complain about pay and working conditions.
“Wal-Mart is doing everything in its power to attempt to silence our voice,” said Colby Harris, who has worked at a Lancaster, Texas, Wal-Mart for three years and makes $8.90 an hour.
Wal-Mart has publicly shrugged off the protests and complaints since OUR Walmart was launched in 2010. But the company confirmed that it has begun responding by sending in executives from the home office in Bentonville, Ark., to tamp down unrest at stores and sending instruction manuals to managers on how to legally respond to striking workers. In a number of stores, managers showed employees videos that depicted OUR Walmart as a campaign by the UFCW to urge workers to unionize.
Wal-Mart employees have filed roughly 20 unfair-labor-practice charges since August with the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that oversees union elections and referees disputes between private-sector employers and employees. The complaints have alleged, among other things, management interference with workers’ rights by preventing them from distributing union literature in the break room, and that the company has retaliated against workers for their involvement with OUR Walmart by cutting workers’ hours or firing them.
Several of the charges have been dismissed or withdrawn and others are under review in the regions where they were filed. At least two of the charges are being reviewed by NLRB officials in Washington. Both of those allege surveillance and interrogation of Wal-Mart warehouse workers.
So far the NLRB hasn’t issued any complaints related to the retail stores, but it has issued two complaints related to allegations at Wal-Mart warehouses.
Wal-Mart, which has 1.4 million workers in the U.S., said it has five million applicants for jobs last year and 20% of those applicants had previously worked for the company.
— Melanie Trottman contributed to this article.