While Walmart’s management publicly dismisses recent strikes and demonstrations as mere “publicity stunts,” a confidential internal memo leaked to the Huffington Post reveals that their associates’ activism has them running scared. Looming threats of massive, nationwide strikes on “Black Friday” — the day after Thanksgiving and the most profitable shopping day of the year for retailers — might also have something to do with Walmart’s sudden concern. The memorandum, marked confidential, is entitled “Response to Walkout/Work Stoppage — Salaried Management Talking Points,” and is available from the Huffington Post Web site as a PDF file. The memo was sent out to salaried (managerial, non-hourly) employees on October 8th, and provides seven pages worth of detailed instructions on how store managers should handle striking employees and the media.
Like the proverbial duck — who presents a placid appearance above water while paddling frantically underneath — Walmart’s upper echelons are more disturbed by their associates’ series of rebellions than they let on. The memo’s opening paragraph reveals a high level of concern and a company that views itself as increasingly under siege:
“As you know, activists or union organizers have been trying for years to stop our Company’s growth and to damage our relationship with our customers and members. One of the activists’ or union organizers’ tactics is to try to disrupt the business by urging our associates to participate in a walkout or other form of work stoppage.”
In contrast with the harsh anti-labor tactics for which Walmart is well-known, the October 8th memo urges management to avoid retaliation and violating workers’ legal rights, and to even allow striking associates to return to their usual shifts. Store managers are instead urged to use the tellingly-acronymed FOE strategy, which exhorts them to show empathy towards errant associates while sharing Facts, Opinions, and personal Experiences. As if telling workers that “I don’t think a walkout is a good way to resolve problems or issues” can fix their inability to afford housing, food, and healthcare — or keep GOP legislators from taking away food stamps and other programs that help them barely get by.
Walmart’s new strategy may be a strong indication of where Walmart’s upper management is placing their Election 2012 bets — because an Obama-led National Labor Relations Board will prove more proactive and to have sharper teeth than we’ve seen in recent decades. Or perhaps their sluggish, hard-headed, insulated upper-management are finally responding to the increasing groundswell of negative publicity launched by the 2005 documentary, Walmart, the High Cost of Low Price.
This summer’s and fall’s wave of protests and walk-outs have been organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers union’s Making Change At Walmart campaign. So far, the UFCW has supported Walmart associates’ request for the right to discuss their working conditions without fear of retaliation, but has made no attempts to organize them into unions. To learn about ways you can become involved and show support for Walmart workers, visit Making Change at Walmart: Our Community. Our Future.