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In response to numerous strikes at Walmart stores across the country in the last couple of months, and in anticipation of nationwide protests on Black Friday, Walmart filed a complaint last week with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), claiming that the union is in violation of federal labor laws as it attempts to disrupt Walmart’s business.
“We are taking this action now because we cannot allow the UFCW to continue to intentionally seek to create an environment that could directly and adversely impact our customers and associates,” said Walmart spokesman David Tovar to The Christian Science Monitor on Monday. “If they do, they will be held accountable.”
The UFCW backs a couple of the organizations—OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart—that are leading the protest in an attempt to push Walmart to provide better wages, benefits and working conditions to its employees.
Walmart said the workers’ ongoing actions of protest violate the National Labor Relations Act and asked the NLRB to halt the strikes. Although the NLRB typically has 72 hours to respond to such complaints, the agency said on Tuesday that because this issue is so complex, it is unlikely to make a decision before Thursday on whether or not to seek an injunction to stop the activity.
Meanwhile, in its own complaint filed on Tuesday, OUR Walmart said the retailer has told store-level management to threaten workers with termination, discipline and/or a lawsuit if they strike or engage in other job actions on Black Friday.
Walmart, which has been diligent about squashing any union-related activities at its stores, has repeatedly pointed out that the recent spate of union-backed protests does not represent the sentiments of its workforce, 1.4 million people deep. It said it expects small protests on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, at only a few stores.
But the filing of last week’s complaint could be an indication that Walmart is taking these protests more seriously than it claims.
“I don’t see this translating into a great deal of success in terms of unionizing Walmart or in terms of being particularly effective in improving conditions,” William B. Gould IV, a Stanford University law professor and chairman of the labor board under President Bill Clinton, told The New York Times on November 18. “But I must say, if they’ve gone to the N.L.R.B. on this, that must show that Walmart is really concerned.”
Plans for the Black Friday protest began to formalize after a recent announcement by Walmart (followed by other retailers) that most of its stores will open at 8 p.m. on Thursday, the day of Thanksgiving, to kick off the Black Friday event this year. Black Friday is considered to be the busiest shopping day of the year. In recent years, retailers have been opening stores earlier than ever in an attempt to grab market share.
For more background on the strikes, read my November 16 story on the topic.
Follow me on Twitter: @kuurlyq.
[Image source: Making Change at Walmart]