Wal-Mart gives all of its managers a copy of their Manager’s Toolbox to Remaining Union-Free. The company says in that manual that it is strongly opposed to third-party representation. But Asda, Wal-Mart’s operating front in England, has had to capitulate to union demands to avoid a costly and embarrassing confrontation with organized labor. The media June 29th. carried a story about how Wal-Mart had worked out an agreement with the powerful British labor union, the GMB. “We’re pleased to have signed an agreement acceptable to both sides to end the current dispute — good news for our customers and colleagues alike,” Asda’s CEO said. The New York Times suggested that the deal was evidence that Wal-Mart was “softening toward organized labor.” One labor organizer was quoted as saying, “This means the company must begin to realize that they can’t ignore the will of their employees to join and be represented by trade unions.” The workers involved are not retail store clerks, but employees at Asda distribution centers in England. The union’s threat of a 5 day strike, with more actions to follow, at one of the busiest shopping weekends in Britain (world cup soccer finals), was enough to push Wal-Mart to the table. The retailer apparently has agreed to engage in nationwide collective bargaining for workers at distribution centers, instead of requiring shop by shop contracts. The agreement also involves workers in decisions about health care and workplace safety. The union will also be allowed to solicit union membership at the workplace — something that would horrify American Wal-Mart management. Several months ago, Asda had to pay a fine of nearly $1.5 million for violating British labor law. The company was “bribing” employees with bonus pay in return for relinquishing their rights to collective bargaining. Wal-Mart/Asda is the second largest retailer in the United Kingdom, with a market share of roughly 17%. Tesco is the largest retailer.
If this distribution center agreement leads to organizing of Asda’s retail workers, it would be a major victory for worker’s rights. For earlier stories on this subject, search Newsflash by “unions.”