Walmart vs. labour

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Catchfire Catchfire's picture
Walmart vs. labour

Walmart legal troubles mount as Black Friday walkout looms

Walmart workers aren’t happy, and they’re letting their employer know it.

In the midst of worker strikes in several cities and the looming threat of a mass employee walkout on Black Friday (one of the busiest shopping days of the year), the world’s largest retailer has been hit with a class action lawsuit affecting temporary workers in the Chicago area.

The filing accuses Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and two temporary staffing agencies in the region – Labor Ready Midwest Inc. and QPS Employment Group, Inc. –  of  breaking minimum wage and overtime laws for temp workers by making them show up early and work through lunch breaks. The lawsuit also alleges that Walmart failed to pay contracted workers the requisite four hours minimum in wages.

“We’re still reviewing the complaint but, based on the UFCW’s press release, one thing is clear: This litigation is being driven by the same union organizations that have been mischaracterizing several issues about Walmart and are more concerned with creating publicity than with improving workers’ rights," Walmart spokesman Dan Fogleman responded via email. “We are committed to ensuring that anyone working in our stores – whether they’re employed by Walmart or, in this case, a temporary staffing agency – is treated appropriately and compensated fairly for every hour they work."

The legal action comes at the tail end of what has been a tumultuous month for Walmart's perpetually rocky relationship with its workers. On Oct. 4, 71 employees in and around Walmart's Pico Rivera, Calif., store in the Los Angeles area participated in a day-long strike that spread to several metropolitan areas, including Chicago, Dallas, Miami, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C, according to the Making Change at Walmart campaign. Additionally, a group of workers staged a protest outside Wal-Mart Inc.'s Bentonville, Ark,, headquarters during the company’s annual investors meeting.

 Walmart, the Most Powerful Company in the World, Admits that Protests and Strikes Lead to Wage Increases

Though known for suppressing wages, I found evidence that the company is willing to change working conditions with sufficient pressure. According to St. Louis Federal Reserve President William Poole, the last time there was significant labor unrest at Walmart, in 2006, the company raised wages at 700 stores. Poole, like many at the Fed, regularly spoke with Walmart executives, and they gave him unvarnished views about their business practices because they believed (as did Poole) that the information would be used solely for macro-economic forecasting.  On March 27-28, 2006, Poole said that his Walmart contact told him the company would not raise wages, and was planning on moving their work force increasingly towards part-time employment. Poole was interested in this because of its bearing on inflation. “Wages,” he said, “and these are for hourly workers, are absolutely flat – no increases whatsoever in the last year and no increases planned going forward.” Poole continued, “About 20 percent of their associates are part time and that they are going to be increasing that share to 40 percent so they can staff at peak times and get more productivity out of their workforce.”

Just two months later, Poole offered some very different and shocking news, “My Wal-Mart contact also said that “Wal-Mart is in the process of raising starting wages in about 700 stores. This is the first time in eight years of talking with him that I’ve heard any comment like that. He said that some of the raises are part of the Wal-Mart, I’ll call it “Social/political” agenda because of all the controversy about Wal-Mart.” The FOMC transcripts are as close as we’re going to get to internal corporate dialogue without discovery or leaks. The reason I found this information is because Walmart has become a significant presence at the Fed; forecasters at the key Federal Open Market Committee meetings increasingly rely on what the retailer tells them about the economy. Now, FOMC transcripts aren’t released for at least five years, so we don’t know whether this strike is registering with those high level policymakers. But the last time there was a far less aggressive union-backed attack on Walmart‘s business practices, it did.

Issues Pages: 

When is Black Friday and what about Canada's participation in this?


NorthReport wrote:

When is Black Friday and what about Canada's participation in this?

November 23.

And here's one big problem:

[url=]Walmart Workers Legally Strike in U.S., But Strike Would Be Illegal in Canada[/url]

In Canada, we have been slightly more successful in actually unionizing Walmart stores, but they then shut them down in response. I'm not aware of any successful unionization in the U.S. to date, though I could be wrong.

It's a war, and the tactics are different in different jurisdictions. But it's a tough war, and I don't know if the union movement in Canada currently has the strength and determination to take on the service sector in a big way.

ETA: Please don't misunderstand the op-ed piece I linked to. The Canadian legislative model is far more conducive to workers' freedom of association and ability to enjoy the benefits of collective protection and collective bargaining (IMHO). And generally speaking, if workers aren't strong enough to form a union, they won't be able to do more difficult tasks (like bring a multinational colossus to its knees).


Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Walmart Workers on Strike in 100 Cities

 It’s on.

A year and a half after retail workers announced the founding of a new Walmart employee group, five months after guest workers struck a Walmart seafood supplier, and seven weeks after the country’s first multi-store Walmart strikes, the Black Friday strike has begun.

Walmart stores opened at 8 PM, drawing additional ire from employees required to come into work on Thanksgiving earlier than ever. But workers’ protests got off to an early start too. Around 7:30 PM EST, 30 workers from three Miami stores went on strike, joining 100-plus supporters for one of several nighttime rallies across the country. “It’s been so long that I’ve been working for people that had no respect for me,” Miami striker Elaine Rozier told The Nation. “They retaliated against me, and they always treated me like crap. And I’m so happy that this is history, that my grandkids can learn from this to stand up for themselves.” In the past, said Rozier, “I always used to sit back and not say anything…I’m proud of myself tonight.”

At 9:45 PM CST, workers struck and rallied with supporters outside a store in Dallas; OUR Walmart says that the peaceful crowd was dispersed by police. When workers walked off the job in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the group says that managers kicked customers out of the store on the mistaken assumption that they were there to protest. Workers are also on strike in San Leandro, California, and Clovis, New Mexico. Stores in Ocean City, Maryland; Orlando, Florida; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana each have a single worker out on strike. In St. Cloud, Florida, Walmart associate Lisa Lopez was joined by Congressman-Elect Alan Grayson as she walked out on strike.

At 11:45 PM, labor and community activists demonstrated outside a store in Quincy, Massachusetts, the first of a string of protests that allied groups promise will hit all 48 Walmarts in the state.

OUR Walmart, the union-backed retail worker group that spearheaded last month’s 28-store strikes, promised last month to pull off a “memorable” Black Friday unless Walmart reversed a slew of allegedly retaliatory firings (Walmart hasn’t). Last week, as workers struck Seattle stores and a Mira Loma warehouse, OUR Walmart pledged 1,000 total actions for the nine days leading up to and including today. Workers say that will include flash mobs, rallies, leaflets, sit-ins, and strikes. Retail employees will have back-up from Occupy activists, women’s and consumer groups, and Walmart warehouse workers. But the day’s biggest question may be just how many Walmart store workers choose the risk and the sacrifice of striking. Last month, 160 struck; how many more will join them today?

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epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

They're Doing Us Wrong

One of the largest of Black Friday's 100 actions at WalMarts nationwide was in Paramount, Ca., where 1,000 union supporters rallied and police arrested nine protesters for civil disobedience, including three workers and retired pastor William Miller of the United Methodist Church. A round-up of other strikes and actions here.


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[url= workers model minority unionism[/url]


A leading labor expert says the OUR Walmart campaign, which last month mounted a strike by 500 retail store employees, demonstrates the potential of an oft-debated model: what scholars call “minority unionism.”

“You’re never going to be able to organize store by store by store by store,” says Kate Bronfenbrenner, the director of labor education and research at Cornell University. “Because then Walmart would close store by store by store by store” to shut the organizing down. Instead, “they built an organization that was a Walmart workers’ organization…in stores across the country.”


Watching The Hawks (and vid)

"[Quebec] journalist Hugo Meunier went undercover as a Walmart employee and found that they are overworked, underpaid and nearly brainwashed..."