Walmart workers are gearing up for what could be a historic Thanksgiving/Black Friday strike. Nationwide Walmart protests over the last month have worried the retail giant enough to prompt its first complaint to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a decade. However, the NLRB indicated Tuesday that it won’t move on Walmart’s complaints in time enough to stop the Black Friday Strike.
NLRB Won’t Grant Injunction Against Black Friday Strike
Occasionally, the NLRB will grant a quick injunction to restrict strikes while an investigation is pending. The fact that the federal agency won’t grant an injunction for Walmart seems to indicate that it doesn’t consider the strikes illegal, and that it ultimately expects to rule in favor of the striking employees.
Eventually, the NLRB will investigate and rule on Walmart’s complaint filed last week, which alleges that the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is behind “illegal” attempts to disrupt Walmart’s business. The agency will determine the strike’s legality by considering the following issues:
- Is UFCW leading the striking Walmart workers in an attempt to gain them official union recognition?
- If the answer is “yes,” under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), workers have only 30 days to protest and strike before either voting to form a union, or ceasing the protests and strikes.
- Under that scenario, the Walmart Black Friday strike would have shaky NLRA footing since workers now have been rallying outside Walmart stores and headquarters for longer than 30 days.
- HOWEVER, if the OUR Walmart group (and striking Walmart workers in general) are found to be independent entities, who are not primarily focused on achieving official union recognition, the law says WORKERS HAVE THE RIGHT TO CONTINUE TO STRIKE.
Disclaimer: While I am in no way qualified to give legal advice, I am not alone in saying the NLRB will likely rule that the current strikes are legal as a “protected concerted activity” among non-unionized employees. (FYI: To determine the intent of the strike, the NLRB will consider evidence such as employee remarks and sign slogans.)
Walmart Submits Apparently False Claims
Despite its poverty-level wages and practice of restricting some employees to part-time hours to avoid paying benefits, Walmart claims the Black Friday strike is a UFCW-orchestrated “stunt” that doesn’t represent the feelings of the majority of employees…who are quite content working long hours on their feet for the reward of living in poverty, dependent on government subsidies.
I wonder how many of those “happy” workers actually believe Walmart’s giving them a fair shake (probably the same percentage that voted for Mitt Romney), and how many are intimidated by their managers and store culture into relinquishing their rights to freedom of speech and association?
Walmart’s letter to the NLRB, in part, claims that UFCW is “forcing or requiring Walmart employees to accept or select the UFCW as their collective bargaining representative.” On the bottom of the NLRB form where Walmart recorded these allegations, an all-caps, bolded warning reads “Willful false statements on this charge can be punished by fines and imprisonment.” Quite the gamble for the largest U.S. retailer.
For a bit of background: OUR Walmart, one of the employee groups organizing the strikes, was technically a subsidiary of the UFCW in 2011. However, employees say UFCW has only offered support and has no stake or controlling interest in OUR Walmart. Also, OUR Walmart has grown in size and will no longer be listed as a UFCW subsidiary in the union’s 2012 filing.
Employees active in the protests confirm that the strikes are not about forming an official union; rather, their aim is to fight for living wages and personal dignity, while protesting unsatisfactory employment conditions and illegal suppression of employee rights.
“I will be protesting because there has been retaliation from the company — they have fired people, they have reduced people’s hours for speaking out,” Greg Fletcher, a Walmart employee in California, told the New York Times.
Walmart’s Primary Intent Is Intimidating Workers
While trying its best to impede the strike effort, Walmart is also trying to downplay it. Walmart spokespeople have said they expect the protests to be small and limited to just a few stores. Given that the NLRB often takes months to make a ruling, many people see Walmart’s NLRB filing as a strategic step to scare workers out of participating in the strike.
A Walmart worker in Tulsa told The Nation that employees were lectured about the strike at a mandatory 10 p.m. meeting Monday night, during which a manager read verbatim what appeared to be script prepared by corporate headquarters. After slamming the Black Friday actions, the script insinuated that the strikes are not legal (when all evidence and experts are saying that they are protected) and indirectly indicated that employees participating would be punished.
Not all firing threats have been veiled. “If [the store employees] are scheduled to work, we expect them to show up and do their job. If they don’t, depending on the circumstances, there could be consequences,” Walmart spokesman David Tovar has told CNN.
OUR Walmart has responded with its own NLRB charge against Walmart, saying the company is illegally attempting to deter workers from participating in strikes.
What Could The Impact Be?
In what may be the largest Walmart strike in history, workers at as many as a thousand stores are expect to participate in Black Friday protests and strikes, and they will be supported by other community groups, including Occupy. Actions are planned in Chicago; Dallas; Los Angeles; Miami; Milwaukee; Washington, D.C.; Oklahoma; Mississippi; Louisiana and Minnesota, according to the Making Change at Walmart organization.
Raising Walmart wages (or minimum wages overall) would actually have a simulative, rather than burdensome effect on the economy, says a new report entitled Retail’s Hidden Potential: How Raising Wages Would Benefit Workers, the Industry and the Overall Economy.
In the report, the Demos think-tank says raising minimum wage to the equivalent of $25,000 a year for a full-time worker would be an effective private sector stimulus, lifting 1.5 million retail workers and their families out of poverty and creating an economic ripple effect that would boost retail sales.
After decade upon decade of fighting to keep employee wages low, one might wonder why Walmart just doesn’t give in, give more respect to its employees, and rebrand itself as a great place to work. The answer: Walmart persists in its aggressive union-bashing for two reasons:
1) Apparently, you don’t become far and away the wealthiest family in America by paying workers a living wage.
2) So far, shoppers have regarded the quality of life of Walmart workers as less important than saving money on cheap clothes and household goods made in China.
Walmart employs 1.3 million people – imagine what could be possible if just a quarter of them stood together to fight for their economic rights and personal dignity, thousands in each state. That would really be something…something that might catch the attention and change the habits of millions of shoppers. Those are the heroic actions that might help transform our profit-before-people course and help sustain a more just economy.