July 14, 2024

Wal-Mart Workers Try the Nonunion Route

The group, Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart for short, says it has quietly signed up thousands of members in recent months, and it is going public this week with a Web site, ourwalmart.org, and a Facebook page. Organizers say they have more than 50 members at some stores, and they hope to soon have tens of thousands of members. Wal-Mart has nearly 1.4 million workers nationwide.

Although the Web site of OUR Walmart depicts the organization as a grass-roots effort by Wal-Mart workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers has provided a sizable sum — the union will not say how much — to help the group get started. The union has also paid hundreds of its members to go door to door to urge Wal-Mart workers to join the group.

In addition, the organizers are receiving help from ASGK Public Strategies, a consulting firm long associated with David Axelrod, President Obama’s top political strategist.

In recent weeks, OUR Walmart has organized gatherings of 10 to 80 workers in Dallas, Seattle, Los Angeles and other cities, meeting inside churches, fast-food restaurants and employees’ homes, where the workers chewed over how they would like to improve Wal-Mart. One big concern, they said, was low wages.

“I’m hoping that OUR Walmart will make a difference in the long run,” said Margaret Van Ness, an overnight stocker at a Wal-Mart store in Lancaster, Calif., about 60 miles north of Los Angeles. Ms. Van Ness earns $11.40 an hour after four years of working there.

“The managers at our store and others are running over their associates as if they didn’t exist,” she said. “They treat them like cattle. They don’t seem to care about respect for the individuals. We need to bring back respect.”

Unlike a union, the group will not negotiate contracts on behalf of workers. But its members could benefit from federal labor laws that protect workers from retaliation for engaging in collective discussion and action.

Wal-Mart officials say that the new organization is essentially a stalking horse for eventual unionization, and they say the retail union is intent on pushing up Wal-Mart’s wages and slowing its expansion to help protect the union’s members at other retailers from competition.

“There’s nothing new about the fact that labor unions want to unionize Wal-Mart,” said David Tovar, a Wal-Mart spokesman. “This is an effort to attract media attention to further their political agenda.”

The new group is the latest iteration of worker groups aimed at pressuring Wal-Mart. Earlier groups included Walmart Watch and Wake-Up Wal-Mart, both backed by unions, as well as the Wal-Mart Workers Association, a short-lived and foundation-backed group composed of Florida Wal-Mart employees.

Officials from the United Food and Commercial Workers are vowing that the new organization will be bigger and better than previous Wal-Mart groups.

“We’ve got Wal-Mart associates in large numbers coming to us and saying, ‘We need a voice. This company is mistreating us. We want to stay here, but we need to be able to change the way we’re being treated,’ ” said Dan Schlademan, director of Making Change at Wal-Mart, a division of the union. “The best thing the U.F.C.W. can be is a catalyst to help associates build an organization.”

OUR Walmart does not go out of its way to disclose its ties to the union or to Mr. Axelrod’s former firm, although officials at the union and the consulting firm say they disclose their roles if asked.

Wal-Mart employees say that store managers around the country have made clear at meetings that OUR Walmart has no affiliation with the company, the world’s largest retailer.

Mr. Tovar, the Wal-Mart spokesman, said the company “provides associates with a work environment based on respect, dignity and future partnership in the business.”

“The fact is our wages and benefits typically exceed those provided by the majority of our competition,” Mr. Tovar added. “As a result, our associates have concluded time and again that they are better off with the pay, benefits package and opportunities for advancement provided by Wal-Mart and have chosen to reject unions.”

Union officials say they hope OUR Walmart will embolden workers and someday pave the way for successful unionization drives at Wal-Mart.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=01fd7e2896b011460a13662d9974a7dc

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