Labor Board Sides With Workers: Walmart Can’t Silence Employees Any Longer

A landmark ruling by the National Labor Relations Board says Walmart unlawfully harassed and fired employees for protesting.

by Peter Dreier

Walmart’s 1.3 million workers won a big victory Monday when the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the retail giant had broken the law by firing and harassing employees who spoke out—and in some cases went on strike—to protest the company’s poverty pay and abusive labor practices.

The federal agency will prosecute Walmart’s illegal firings and disciplinary actions involving more than 117 workers, including those who went on strike last June as part of a growing movement of company employees. The ruling is likely to accelerate the burgeoning protest movement among Walmart employees, upset with low pay, stingy benefits, arbitrary work schedules and part-time jobs.

Over the past year, protests against the world’s largest private employer have escalated, led by OUR Walmart, a nationwide network of Walmart workers. Last fall, the group announced that it would hold rallies outside Walmart stores in dozens of cities on the day after Thanksgiving—the busiest shopping day of the year, typically called Black Friday. In response, Walmart executives threatened disciplinary action against workers who participated in rallies and strikes, even though they are perfectly legal. Speaking on national television, Walmart spokesperson David Tovar threatened workers, saying that “there could be consequences” for employees who did not come to work for scheduled shifts on Black Friday. Despite the threats, several hundred Walmart workers joined tens of thousands of supporters at the Black Friday protests around the country.

In June, over 100 striking Walmart workers, along with allies from labor, community and faith-based groups, trekked to Walmart’s annual shareholder meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas, the company headquarters, to tell shareholders about the company’s abusive practices. When these workers returned to work, Walmart—hoping to knock the wind out of the sails of the growing movement—systematically fired at least twenty-three workers and disciplined another forty-three employees despite their legally recognized, protected absences.

In its statement, the NLRB explained: “During two national television news broadcasts and in statements to employees at Walmart stores in California and Texas, Walmart unlawfully threatened employees with reprisal if they engaged in strikes and protests on November 22, 2012.” It also ruled that “Walmart stores in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington unlawfully threatened, disciplined, and/or terminated employees for having engaged in legally protected strikes and protests.”

Under the NLRB ruling, Walmart could be required to reinstate the workers and award them back pay. The board could also require Walmart to inform and educate all employees of their legally protected rights. (Federal labor law doesn’t allow the NLRB to impose fines on companies that violate workers’ rights).

This is not the first time that the NLRB has sanctioned Walmart for labor violations. In California, the Board recently decided to prosecute Walmart for eleven violations of federal labor law for threats that managers made around Black Friday last year. In Kentucky, Walmart reached a settlement with Aaron Lawson, whom the company fired after he distributed flyers and spoke out against the company’s attempts to silence those who called for better wages and consistent hours. As part of the settlement, Walmart agreed to rehire Lawson and provide full back wages for the time that he was out of work.

In fact, Walmart has a long history of law-breaking, not only in retaliation for employee activism but also in exploiting immigrants, paying women less than men for the same jobs, breaking environmental laws and bribing Mexican officials, among many other infractions. Walmart has also recently earned well-deserved negative publicity for its complicity in thwarting safety improvements at Bangladesh sweatshops that make clothes sold in Walmart stores. One of them was the eight-story Rana Plaza factory building near Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, where last April at least 1,100 workers were killed after the building collapsed—the deadliest garment industry disaster in history.

Prior to the extended strike in June, American Rights at Work/Jobs with Justice released a report documenting Walmart’s extensive and systematic efforts to intimidate employees. At that time, there were more than 150 incidents in stores across the country, but that number has now skyrocketed in response to the growing organization and militancy of Walmart workers.

“It is time for Walmart to obey the law,” said Joseph Hansen, international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which has been supporting Walmart workers’ organizing efforts. “A message was sent loud and clear, far and wide, that the company must change.”

“Walmart continues to show that it’s afraid to have real conversations about creating better jobs, but would rather scare us into silence,” said Tiffany Beroid, a Walmart worker from Laurel, Maryland. “But change at Walmart is too important to our economy and for our families for us to stop speaking out.”

The new ruling makes it more likely that many more Walmart workers will be willing to stand up to the company and participate in Our Walmart’s efforts to improve pay and working conditions. In fact, the NLRB decision happened to come on the same day that Our Walmart was announcing another series of Black Friday protests, scheduled for November 29. Our Walmart leaders said that the number of rallies and demonstrations this year will exceed those that occurred a year ago.

Last week, in anticipation of the Black Friday protests, 500 labor, faith-based and community activists rallied in front of a Walmart store in Los Angeles’s Chinatown neighborhood, and fifty-four were arrested. On Monday, Walmart employees and community supporters in Ohio—about 50 in Evendale (a Cincinnati suburb) and seventy in Dayton—demonstrated outside Walmart stores to build momentum for the Black Friday actions.

At this year’s Black Friday protests, workers will demand that Walmart increase hours so that employees work full-time, ensuring a minimum wage of $25,000 a year, and end the company’s illegal retaliation against those who speak out for better jobs. Bill Simon, CEO of Walmart US, recently told financial analysts that 475,000 employees make more than this amount. In doing so, Simon confirmed that more than half and as many as two-thirds of the company’s American employees—as many as 825,000 workers—make less than $25,000 a year because of low wages and their not getting enough hours. (In what has become yet another embarrassment for the company, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported Monday that a Walmart store in Canton, Ohio, had organized a food drive for its poorly paid employees. The store set up several plastic bins in an employees-only area with a sign that read: “Please donate food items here so our Associates in Need can enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner”).

Raising Walmart workers’ wages to at least $25,000 would not only lift them and their families out of poverty but also stimulate economic growth and create additional jobs in other sectors because of what economists call the “multiplier effect."

Walmart has become a symbol—and a major cause—of the nation’s widening gap between the super-rich and the rest. The company’s controlling family, the Waltons, have a net worth of more than $144 billion. This is more than the total wealth of 40 percent of all Americans—over 125 million people. Walmart CEO Michael Duke received over $20 million in compensation last year. Last year Walmart made $17 billion in profits.

Even Fortune magazine—hardly a radical rag—observed that “Walmart can afford to give its workers a 50% raise,” without hurting its stock value.

 

Peter Dreier is E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and director of the Urban & Environmental Policy program, at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (2012, Nation Books). Other books include: Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century and The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City. He writes regularly for the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, and American Prospect.

Walmart “Offended”: Pushback on Charity Aimed at Its Employees

Walmart “Offended” by Pushback on Charity Aimed at Walmart Employees

by Ruth McCambridge

Yesterday, NPQ covered a story about a Walmart store that had placed food donation bins in employee-only areas for “associates in need.” As one might predict, many had something to say about the wage levels of the retail giant, which force many associates onto food stamps and to charity relief. But Brooke Buchanan, a Walmart spokeswoman, said the corporation, which does not itself contribute to the relief of its badly paid staff, was “offended” by the criticism.

“This program was completely taken out of context. We are offended. This was an act of human kindness for our associates.” And in fact, Buchanan said Walmart employees have donated $80 million through Associates in Critical Need Trust since 2001. The Walmart Foundation’s website advertises that it logged $1 billion dollars in charitable expenditures in 2012. Perhaps this is what Peter Buffett was referring to when he wrote in his op-ed about corporate leaders who “search for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left.”

“As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few,” he says, “the more heroic it sounds to ‘give back.’ It’s what I would call ‘conscience laundering’—feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.”

Where’s the justice?

Speaking of human kindness, the Organization United for Respect is challenging Walmart to pay its employees enough to feed their families without having to use charity or food stamps. “Walmart is asking us to donate food to our co-workers. Why can’t Walmart pay us enough so we can feed our families?” Meanwhile, the Nation reports that on Monday, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Walmart had broken the law by firing and harassing employees who protested the company’s poverty pay and abusive labor practices.The NLRB will prosecute illegal firings and disciplinary actions involving more than 117 workers.

Copyright 2013 Nonprofit Information Networking Association

http://www.nonprofitquarterly.org/policysocial-context/23276-walmart-offended-by-pushback-on-charity-aimed-at-walmart-employees.html

Walmart Workers, Community Allies to Hold 1500 Protests

Walmart Workers, Community Allies to Hold 1500 Protests Across Country on Black Friday

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 21, 2013
2:11 PM

CONTACT: OUR Walmart

Derrick Plummer, 202-466-1576; Giovanna Vitale, 646-200-5334; Alex Edwards, 810-986-0880

Walmart Workers, Community Allies to Hold 1500 Protests Across Country on Black Friday

Protests in Los Angeles, Miami, Bay Area, Chicago, Seattle, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Sacramento Mark Largest Mobilization of Working Families in Recent History

Environmental, Religious, Women’s & Immigrants’ Rights Groups Join Workers to Call For An End to Illegal Retaliation, $25,000 a Year, Full-Time Work

WASHINGTON - November 21 - Walmart workers and community allies today announced plans leading up to and on Black Friday, saying 1500 protests are scheduled for across the country, in what is set to be one of the largest mobilizations of working families in American history. Workers are calling for an end to illegal retaliation, and for Walmart to publicly commit to improving labor standards, such as providing workers with more full time work and $25,000 a year. As the country’s largest retailer and employer, Walmart makes more than $17 billion in profits, with the wealth of the Walton family totaling over $144.7 billion – equal to that of 42% of Americans.

“Black Friday 2013 will mark a turning point in American history,” said Dorian Warren, associate professor at Columbia University. “Fifteen hundred protests against Walmart is unprecedented. Working families are fighting back like never before – and have the support of America behind them.

Emboldened by news from Walmart CEO Bill Simon that as many as 825,000 workers are paid less than $25,000 a year, workers and supporters are calling for better jobs nationwide. Major protests are planned in more than a dozen metropolitan cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Bay Area, Seattle, Sacramento, Miami, Minneapolis and Washington, DC.

The announcement follows revelations this week that many Walmart workers don’t have enough money tocover Thanksgiving dinner for their families. A photo from a Canton, Ohio store set the internet abuzz Monday, with workers, customersand commentatorspointing to a food drive set up for Walmart’s own employees as proof that the retailer pays its workers poverty wages.

“Walmart’s right that associates do stick together and look out for each other. We have to because Walmart and the Waltons seem to be fine with the financial struggles that we’re all facing,” said Barbara Gertz, a five-year Walmart employee from Colorado. “We’re are all in the same situation, one that Walmart creates by paying us poverty wages that aren’t enough to cover holiday meals. We don’t want handouts; we want an employer that pays us enough to afford Thanksgiving dinner – and dinner every night of the year.”

Workers and community supporters have been inspired by actions across the country in recent weeks. In Los Angeles, workers went on a two-day strike that culminated in the largest-ever act of civil disobedience against Walmart, and last week, workers in Seattle, Chicago, Ohioand Dallas joined them in walking off their jobs.

The strikes, which call for an end to illegal retaliation at Walmart, come as the federal labor board this week issued a decision to prosecute Walmart for widespread violationsof its workers’ rights. The decision will provide additional protection for Walmart’s 1.3 million employees when they are speaking out for better jobs. The Board will prosecute Walmart’s illegal firings and disciplinary actions involving more than 117 workers, including those who went on strike last June.

With the Labor Relations Board moves forward to seek a settlement that could include the reinstatement of fired workers, a group of Walmart employees who were illegally retaliated against are traveling to Bentonville, Arkansas to call on Walmart CEO Bill Simon to reinstate them immediately. Early Friday morning, November 22, the fired workers will visit Home Office to urge Walmart to live up to the anti-retaliation policy it professes to follow.

“I’m traveling to Bentonville with other workers who were wrongfully fired because Walmart needs to hear from us directly: we want our jobs back, and we want you to put theanti-retaliation policy you talk about into practice,” said Jeanna Slate, a fired striker, mother and grandmother from rural Texas who is traveling to Bentonville. “Walmart makes $17 billion dollars in profits while the majority of its workers makeless than $25,000 a year. Walmart can do better.”

Walmart workers have escalated their online organizing andcommunity outreach ahead of Black Friday 2013, allowing customers and community members to join the fight for $25,000 and an end to illegal retaliation. Chicago worker Charmaine Givens-Thomas launched an online petitionasking President Obama to meet with Walmart workers, which currently has more than 100,000 signers; individuals can sponsor a Walmart striker online; and a new online portal, www.associatevoices.com, allows associates to step forward and request Black Friday protests at their stores. Just weeks since the launch, the number of cities that have requested a Black Friday rally is well ahead of the number at this point in 2012.

National leaders and community groups representing tens of millions of Americans, from every corner of thecountry, will join workers at protests leading up to and on Black Friday. Members of Congress, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN); women’s groups including the National Organization for Women and Family Values @ Work; and environmental and consumer protection organizations such as The Sierra Club, the National Consumers League and Food and Water Watch, have all pledged support for the courageous workers, saying their fight is a fight for all Americans.

“I learned about the growing protests online, and after seeing the news that Walmart was asking its own employees to feed one another, I knew I had to speak out,” said Rev. Holly Beaumont, organizing director for Interfaith Worker Justice New Mexico, who plans to join protests around Black Friday. “It’s not right. Anyone who works hard shouldn’t have to rely on food stamps, or charity from their coworkers, just to get by.”

Growing voices in business and the media have denounced Walmart for its unsustainable business model. A Bloomberg columnist recently called the company the true “welfare queen,” noting that Walmart is the largest consumer of taxpayer-supported aid. Following third quarter revenues that fell short of expectations, Forbes added that shoppers, shareholders and the retail giant have reason to worry. And the New York Times argued that Walmart employees deserve both raises and to have the federal government behind them.

As calls for change intensify, academics, business experts and think tanks are offering ways that Walmart can increase workers’ wages without costing taxpayers, customers or the business a dime. A Fortune article pointed to investors wanting change– Walmart could easily raise wages by 50% without affecting its stock value. And public policy organization Demos released a report this week finding that Walmart could easily payevery employee $14.89without raising prices by simply not buying its own stock to further enrich the Walton family. 

Walmart’s low-wage model winds up costing us all,” said Amy Traub, Demos senior policy analyst and co-author of A Higher Wage is Possible. “When the biggest employer in the country doesn’t pay its workers enough to spend money in their communities, we don’t get the economic growth that creates more jobs. And when jobs don’t pay enough to support a family, taxpayers end up subsidizing Walmart’s workforce costs through public benefits like Medicaid and nutrition assistance.”

For more information on Black Friday protests, visit www.BlackFridayProtests.org and follow the conversation and see photos at @ChangeWalmart, #WalmartStrikers and changewalmart.tumblr.com.

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OUR Walmart works to ensure that every Associate, regardless of his or her title, age, race, or sex, is respected at Walmart. We join together to offer strength and support in addressing the challenges that arise in our stores and our company everyday.

OUR Walmart Links:
http://forrespect.org/

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