Walmart, trying to change the subject in advance of protests and strikes at the outset of the holiday shopping season, has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the United Food and Commercial Workers union, arguing that UFCW is illegally attempting to disrupt its business.
A non-union coalition of Walmart workers called OUR Walmart has taken the lead on organizing the recent historic labor actions, which included the first strikes in the company’s 50-year history. Members pay OUR Walmart $5 in monthly dues, but the coalition has not attempted to unionize or collectively bargain for associates on a labor contract. All of their actions to date have sought to raise awareness over erratic hours, low wages, lack of benefits and retaliation for speaking out on these issues.
But Walmart claims that UFCW is behind OUR Walmart and has organized the protests themselves. There are links between the group and the union, but OUR Walmart claims no direct association:
OUR Walmart and another group, Making Change at Walmart, are affiliated with the UFCW, which represents more than 1 million workers including many at retailers that compete with Walmart. According to a filing with the Labor Department, OUR Walmart was a subsidiary of the UFCW as of 2011.
Walmart worker and OUR Walmart member Mary Pat Tifft told Reuters that OUR Walmart is an independent organization that gets technical support from the union but that the UFCW has no stake or controlling interest in the group.
The NLRB is obligated, after the filing, to investigate the charges, but it would involve probing the funding sources, organizational hierarchy and decision-making process of OUR Walmart. The case turns on the technical differences between OUR Walmart being an affiliate of the UFCW or merely supported by them. The retail giant also objects to non-employees coming on their private property to hand out literature and demonstrate, which looks to me like a free speech issue.
Meanwhile, Walmart workers struck in Seattle and Dallas in the past week. Laura Clawson points out that the dichotomy between Walmart dismissing the labor actions as part of a small minority and also filing this unfair labor practice charge to shut down additional actions before they occur is pretty revealing. Anytime a massive retailer runs to the National Labor Relations Board for relief, you have to laugh, too. I thought they didn’t believe in the NLRB?