Monday, November 19, 2012

Wal-Mart Loves the NLRB: Who'da Thunk It?

In a hilarious switcheroo, according to an article in today’s NYT, Wal-Mart has filed a complaint with the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) to prevent its employees from participating in demonstrations on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving generally known as the biggest shopping day of the year.  The Chamber of Commerce loathes the NLRB almost as much as the ACLU.  Certainly if Romney/Ryan had been elected, one order of business would have been to eliminate it.

It’s interesting how reporter Steve Greenhouse differed in his presentation of Wal-Mart and its battle with OUR Walmart (Organization United for Respect at Walmart) when he wrote about their relationship back in June 2011.  That article focused on OUR Walmart and gave the employees a voice; today’s article is told mainly from the point-of-view of Wal-Mart’s management and law professors.  Today’s article assumes throughout that OUR Walmart is a union, providing a foundation for Wal-Mart’s claim that:

Continuing protests were illegal because under the National Labor Relations Act, a union seeking recognition can picket for a maximum of 30 days.  After that, it must either stop picketing or take a formal unionization vote.

In the June 2011 article, Greenhouse made it clear in the first paragraph that OUR Walmart was not a union:

After numerous failed attempts to unionize Wal-Mart stores, the nation’s main union for retail workers has decided to try a different approach: it has helped create a new, nonunion group of Wal-Mart employees that intends to press for better pay, benefits and most of all, more respect at work.

Ironically, the fact that OUR Walmart is not a union is supposed to protect them under federal law:

Unlike a union, the group will not negotiate contracts on behalf of workers.  But its members could benefit from federal labor laws that protect workers from retaliation for engaging in collective discussion and action.

Now Wal-Mart is seeking protection under federal law.  Poor baby!  Wonder who it supported for president with mucho dead presidents.

Why don’t the workers unionize at Walmart?  Because Wal-Mart will use deadly tactics.  (Although not as deadly as when Frank Little, union organizer for Industrial Workers of the World [IWW] was forcibly taken from his home and lynched from a train trestle while he was helping organize a strike against the Anaconda Copper Company.  Yet.)  It's ferocious:

Wal-Mart has aggressively battled organizing drives at its stores—it even closed a Canadian store after its workers voted to unionize.

Greenhouse quotes a worker in the first article, which he doesn’t do in the second:

“Someone has to stand up to say something,” said Deondra Thomas, a shoe department employee at a Dallas Wal-Mart, who earns $8.90 an hour after three years there.  “So many people have been quiet for so long.  A lot of us think Wal-Mart is an awesome company, but as far as the employees, they treat us like dirt.”

A family of 4 making $23,050 qualifies as poverty-level according to the 2012 guidelines.  If Deondra works full-time, 40 hours a week), she would gross $17,800.

In today’s article, the only reference to the workers is indirect:

Many of [Walmart’s] workers assert that Wal-Mart pays poverty-level wages, assigns too few hours a week and retaliates against protesting employees.

Note the use of the word “assert” which qualifies it, making it open to interpretation, as opposed to the quote from Ms. Thomas in the first article.  (I wonder what ever happened to her.  Is she still working for Wal-Mart?  Greenhouse could have followed up his own story to check if Wal-Mart retaliated against her.  He also could have checked pay stubs to verify poverty-level claims.)

The not-so-funny thing about Wal-Mart’s poverty level wages is that it depends on government benefits to fill in the food and health care gaps.

What would the service economy do without the government?

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