Every Wal-Mart manager is warned by the company not to “Threaten, Interrogate Promise, Spy” on their workers. Wal-Mart calls this their TIPS on unionization. But union officials say that Wal-Mart routinely uses threats and intimidation to scare workers away from voting in a union. On June 30, 2008, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled in a case brought against Wal-Mart by the United Food and Commercial Workers, that Wal-Mart had violated federal labor law at its Kingman, Arizona store. The NLRB found that Wal-Mart had threatened its workers with a loss of a merit wage increase if they supported a union, and granted workers new benefits and improved working conditions to discourage their employees from supporting a union. The NLRB forced Wal-Mart to post a notice in their store for the workers to see for 60 days which said “Federal Law Gives You The Right to From, Join or Assist A Union,” along with a list of organizing rights. During its investigation, the NLRB found that Wal-Mart “engaged in surveillance of its employee’s union activities, and gave its employees that impression.” Wal-Mart fired one of its tire and lube employees because of his union activities. The NLRB noted that from the day a union petition was filed at the Kingman store, (Wal-Mart) had been engaged in a high intensity effort to defeat the local union. A labor relations team had immediately been brought in from Arkansas and, thereafter, assumed total control of the campaign. The managers held daily meetings where they discussed strategy and the likely union sympathies of the employees. The report says that the Wal-Mart employee who organized the petition became a ‘marked man,’ and that the retailer “engaged in various unfair labor practices.” It took the UFCW eight years to get justice in this complaint. The Kingman case was settled exactly one year ago. Similar unfair labor practices have been filed many times by the UFCW. Sprawl-Busters reported on March 17, 2005 the union’s complaints that Wal-Mart had intimidated and bullied workers at a store in Loveland, Colorado, scaring workers into voting against union representation. Workers at the Loveland Tire & Lube Express section of Wal-Mart voted 17-1 in February of 2005 to reject the union. But the United Food and Commercial Workers asked the NLRB to void the results. The UFCW says no union member was allowed to observe the election and that Wal-Mart added employees to the unit to dilute the strength of the union supporters. Wal-Mart warns its managers to watch out for “salts” — union plants in the workforce — but in this case, the union is charging that Wal-Mart “salted” its own workforce with anti-union plants. This week, Minnesota Public Radio aired a story about another unfair labor practice filed by the UFCW against a Wal-Mart store in St. Paul, Minnesota. According to the complaint, which was filed on June 25th, the UFCW charges that supervisors at the St. Paul Wal-Mart store forced workers to attend anti-union meetings and threatened to fire union supporters. According to United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789, Wal-Mart flew in a team of corporate representatives to the Twin Cities to block the organizing efforts. The company told workers “that union supporters would not continue to be employed by Wal-Mart.” The UFCW charges that assistant store managers asked workers if they had signed union cards and “interrogated” workers regarding their union support. Tensions are rising inside Wal-Mart corporate headquarters as pressure mounts to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would change the organizing rules to allow workers to collect card pledges for union representation, instead of requiring an election. This is essentially the same process now used in Canada, where several Wal-Mart stores have been unionized. Wal-Mart has joined other retailers in raising funds to block the EFCA in Congress. The NLRB complaints are holding actions — since the cases take years to resolve, and result in only minor sanctions against the companies that have violated the National Labor Relations Act. But the unfair labor practices cases help to hold the spotlight on the need for an Employee Free Choice Act in America.
Wal-Mart did not immediately deny the charges in the St. Paul case. A spokesperson for the retailer said the company was reviewing the charges and would not have an immediate response to the filing. “I can tell you that we make sure that we take steps to educate our managers on labor law and make sure that our associates know their rights as well,” the company told Minnesota Public Radio. The UFCW has made it clear that it intends to file a petition with the NLRB for a union election at Wal-Mart store #5437 on University Avenue in St. Paul. Wal-Mart has two stores in St. Paul. The National Labor Relations Board will now conduct an investigation to determine whether the employer violated labor laws, and a representative from the Board said a ruling could come down by mid August. But even if found guilty, the NLRB would require Wal-Mart to post a notice that states that workers have a right to organize and that the company will not interfere in union efforts, similar to the sign that hung in the Kingman, Arizona Wal-Mart for 60 days. The NLRB told NPR it cannot levy a financial penalty against Wal-Mart for violating the law. The National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1935 to administer the National Labor Relations Act, the primary law governing relations between unions and employers in the private sector. The statute guarantees the right of employees to organize and to bargain collectively with their employers or to refrain from all such activity. Generally applying to all employers involved in interstate commerce — other than airlines, railroads, agriculture, and government — the Act implements the national labor policy of assuring free choice and encouraging collective bargaining as a means of maintaining industrial peace. But the NLRB has a very weak sting. Readers are urged to email Marlin Osthus, the Regional Director of the NLRB at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Director Osthus, I hope the NLRB will take swift action against the Wal-Mart corporation because of its history of violating labor laws, and intimidating and threatening its workers. This St. Paul case is very similar to one settle by the NLRB in Kingman, Arizona. The names and places are different, but the pattern of unfair labor practices is the same. Don’t let Wal-Mart continue to violate labor laws without impunity. Wal-Mart workers have the right to act together with other employees for their benefit and protection, and to choose representatives to bargain with Wal-Mart on their behalf. All of these activities protected under federal law have repeatedly been violated by Wal-Mart, in St. Paul and around the nation. Please don’t let this case drag on. Make Wal-Mart play by the rule of law.”