Workers at Walmart stores in Dallas and Laurel, Maryland on February 7 walked off the job, and workers in Laurel filed unfair labor practice charges against the company. The walkout and filing of charges was sparked by misstatements made by Walmart managers who told employees that collective actions such as last year’s Black Friday events at Walmart stores are illegal and that OUR Walmart, the organization of Walmart associates that helped organize the events, no longer exists.
“Walmart is at it again – using intimidation tactics to keep Walmart workers from coming together to speak out for change,” said Colby Harris, an OUR member and Dallas Walmart employee, in a message to supporters. “Only this time it’s worse than usual. Now Walmart is telling workers that the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) no longer exists and that if they talk about it or come together to speak out, they will be fired or disciplined. These lies are an attempt to scare workers and keep them from speaking out.”
OUR members report that managers at stores in Maryland, Texas, Kentucky, Florida and Illinois all made similar statements about the illegality of the Black Friday actions and the demise of OUR, a national organization of Walmart associates with more than 1,000 members.
The managers’ misstatements were made after receiving a memo from Walmart US CEO William Simon. The memo describes, apparently not very accurately, an agreement between the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which like dozens of other labor organizations has been supporting OUR’s efforts to improve working conditions, and the National Labor Relations Board.
The agreement resolves a November 20 unfair labor practice charge filed by Walmart against UFCW. Walmart charged UFCW with violating the National Labor Relations Act by organizing picket lines at Walmart stores for more than 30 days with the intent of seeking recognition as the bargaining representative for Walmart workers.
According to the NLRB, the union agreed not to picket or engage in confrontational actions at Walmart stores for 60 days and to publish a letter clarifying its position with regard to organizing Walmart workers.
The letter, which UFCW posted on its website and those of OUR and Making Change at Walmart, a community support organization for Walmart workers, states that UFCW is not seeking to represent Walmart workers and that it will not picket Walmart stores for 60 days.
The letter also says that even though OUR and UFCW are not seeking to represent workers both “have the purpose of helping Walmart employees as individuals or groups in their dealings with Walmart over labor rights and standards and their effort to have Walmart publically (sic) commit to adhering to labor rights and standards.”
In other words, even though UFCW and OUR are not trying to organize a union in the traditional sense, they are both committed to helping Walmart employees improve working conditions through collective action.
Both members of OUR and non-members have complained about Walmart’s lack of transparency and fairness in scheduling work, its manipulation of work hours, which prevents many workers from being eligible for benefits, its discrimination against women and people of color, and its lack of concern about addressing problems raised by workers.
OUR with the help of UFCW, other labor unions, and community supporters last year stepped up its efforts to bring these problems to the attention of management.
Last October more than 200 associates at 12 stores across the US walked off the job to protest management’s intimidation and retaliation against associates who speak up for better working conditions.
The Black Friday events on the day after Thanksgiving were a continuation of OUR’s efforts to get the attention of Walmart’s managers and executives. Public events such as picket lines and leafletting were held at 1,000 US Walmart stores.
Walmart said that the Black Friday events had no impact, but somebody at corporate headquarters must have been listening because in January Simon announced at the annual convention of the National Retailers Federation that the retail giant would make scheduling more transparent and fair and that the store would provide more opportunities for workers who want full-time work to receive the hours they need.
But while offering employees an olive branch with one hand, Walmart hasn’t forgotten how to wield the sword of intimidation with the other, which most recently took the form of the misstatements about and threats against taking collective action to improve working conditions.
“Not only are such statements to employees illegal and incorrect but they are threatening and intimidating and no one should have to endure that,” said Harris. “I along with other Walmart associates work hard to support our families and support our community, as a worker I should have the right to do my job free from intimidation and threats.”