The battle at Walmart begins.

From the Wall Street Journal:

The United Food and Commercial Workers union is ramping up organizing at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. after a five-year lull, dovetailing with its efforts to win support in Congress for a bill to make union organizing easier.

The Bentonville, Ark., retailer, a leading opponent of the legislation, said managers have seen increased union activity at a number of stores, prompting mandatory meetings to discuss unionization. “We have noticed that the UFCW has been working harder lately in its attempts to get Wal-Mart associates to sign union cards, but we don’t think our associates have any reason to be more interested than before,” said Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar.

“We have noticed…”; that sounds ominous (and it is), but here’s why they’ve noticed:

Since February, about 60 UFCW organizers have been dispatched to more than 100 Wal-Mart stores in 15 states to get workers to sign union-authorization cards. The cards are attached to flyers that feature a photograph of President Barack Obama and a quote from a 2007 speech he gave to UFCW activists in Chicago. “I don’t mind standing up for workers and letting Wal-Mart know they need to pay a decent wage and let folks organize,” Mr. Obama said in 2007. A White House spokesman said Thursday that the president stands by the statement.

I love that paragraph because it reminds me so much of 1933. After the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers began an organizing campaign with the slogan “The President wants you to join a union.” Put on the spot, Franklin Roosevelt wavered in his support for organizing rights, suggesting in a press conference that workers could choose the Ahkoond of Swat or the National Geographic Society if they were so inclined. Obama, given the chance, didn’t back off a bit.

But back to Walmart:

At a Duncanville, Texas, Wal-Mart, the union has signed up 58 employees, representing a little more than 10% of the store’s 500 employees. Several workers said the company’s strong performance during the recession encouraged them to sign union cards in an effort to get better wages and benefits.

Linda Haluska, an overnight stocker at a Wal-Mart in Glendale, Ill., said Wal-Mart is “a good place to work, but it would be better with a union.” Since February, Ms. Haluska said her store has held five or six meetings attended by managers from the Wal-Mart corporate office to discuss unionization. Ms. Haluska and other workers said the meetings are aimed at dissuading workers from supporting the union. “They are not giving us the full picture, just enough to discourage you.”

This is why passage of the Employee Free Choice Act is so vital. The playing field is not level. The purpose of such meetings is to intimidate workers into not joining the union. Opponents of EFCA claim that union members might intimidate workers into signing union cards if that legislation passes, but these meetings are more intimidating than anything organized labor could ever manage because MANAGEMENT HAS THE POWER TO FIRE YOU. Unions don’t.

And what happens when unions try to explain their side of the story?:

For its part, in a letter dated March 6, Wal-Mart asked the union to stop violating company policy by entering its facilities and soliciting signatures from workers “in working areas and on working time.” The company added: “These tactics provide a great illustration of why there is such widespread concern about allowing unions to be certified based solely on the basis of authorization cards.”

Indeed, they do. Waste a worker’s time with a union pitch and Walmart complains like the dickens. Waste a worker’s time with five or six mandatory meetings and it’s positive reinforcement.

Walmart will be holding a lot more of these meetings soon because it is petrified that if its employees actually hear the UFCW’s message they might ignore management’s propaganda and the company will end up unionized. Pass EFCA now, thereby giving workers a way to bypass unfair union elections (during which one in five union activists get fired for their troubles) and it becomes much more likely that that will happen.

When workers get unionized they earn higher wages. When they earn higher wages, they can spend more and maybe then we’ll get out of this recession faster.

33 Responses to “The battle at Walmart begins.”

  1. [...] The battle at Walmart begins. Tags: commercial, five-year-lull, increased-union, said-managers, street, street-journal, the-legislation, ufcw [...]

  2. Congratulations!
    You certainly hit a nerve with this essay on dailyKos.

    I think this shows that people would be willing to take a more active role in pushing fro EFCA and general organizing. What we need to see is some way to harness this energy.

    Perhaps the unions are too focused on traditional techniques of appealing to those within the movement and those at specific sites where they are trying to organize. This cries out for some creative leadership. Perhaps the blogosphere will have to lead the way.

  3. Ironically, I owe a lot of this success to Bob who has forced me to learn how to explain the arguments for EFCA as clearly as humanly possible.

    [Yes, that's yet another extremely back-handed compliment.]

  4. Matt Talbot says:

    Exactly right, Jonathan. The EFCA will help equalize the power relationship between management and labor, and good lord, the powers that be can’t have that. Their yachts need helipads, after all.

  5. bendygirl says:

    Agreed, Bob certainly has helped you refine your comments. I’ve enjoyed reading them as well.

  6. The EFCA will help equalize the power relationship between management and labor

    I understand neither why that is right nor why it is desirable.

  7. UncleBob says:

    I’ll assume my check is in the mail? :D

  8. Someone:
    There are two possibilities:

    1. You are actually a member of the Walton family and directly benefit from poor labor relations. That is you are a sock puppet.

    2. You are actually a member of the working class, like 99% of the rest of the country. I define the working class as those that need to work to eat.

    If #2 represents your situation then why wouldn’t even you want to be able to negotiate a better deal for yourself as an employee by being part of a group that can pool its demands? There are only a handful of workers that can do better off for themselves by negotiating as individuals. Most of these are “stars” in sports or entertainment where they themselves are the brand.

    Of course there is a third possibility – it’s called the Stockholm syndrome. Look it up.

  9. UncleBob says:

    To be fair, I can perfectly see why that would be desirable.

    However, as to “equalizing the power” between employees and employers… I’m not sure that’s “right”.

    Perhaps we should stop using fancy terms like “Manager” and “Associate” and get right down to it – “Boss” and “Subordinate”. The “Boss” should have power over the “Subordinate”. Your “Boss” should be able to discipline, promote and terminate you. Your “Boss” should be able to… you know, “boss” you around. The “Boss” is in charge. That means they have power – and responsibilities that go along with that.

  10. Jonathan Rees says:

    Bob,

    You’re a suck-up, and while I can’t necessarily judge how effective this attitude will be on your superiors it certainly makes you look ridiculous in front of the rest of us.

  11. UncleBob says:

    I guess I could be considered a suck-up. If my store’s management team were to, you know, actually read this site. I’d be surprised it they’ve even actually heard of it.

    I suppose I could be sucking up to Bentonville – but considering I’ve not received any kind of special treatment (no extra bonuses, no special raise… hell, often times, I can’t even get special orders of merchandise to go through!), that’d be silly.

    Perhaps I just honestly believe in the idea of, you know, actually having someone “in charge” of their own business. Nearly every single business, government, NGO, NFP, religious group, etc… they all have some kind of power structure. Food for thought – why did our Founding Fathers say “all men are created equal”? Because they know that not all men continue to be equal – the decisions they make in life (for better, worse, or indifferent) effect them and those around them so that not everyone is equal.

  12. Robert, obviously I work for a living. I’ve said before that my job with the company is such that I cannot join a union even if I wanted to. Therefore, anything that impedes profitability in any way is a negative to me. That is my personal stake in things.

    However, I do not believe that if I were to open a business that I should be forced to deal with an organization I did not employ and have terms of how I run my business dictated to me by said organization or some third party. That’s not right or fair.

    And Bob, people aren’t even created equal…

  13. We now have absolute proof that you are both Un-American. Unlike other people who throw that word around, I’m not going to try to get you both thrown in prison, but you each need to understand that this is why your extremist view will always be extraordinarily unpopular.

  14. Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

    Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

    But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

    - Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863.

  15. UncleBob says:

    JR: All men are not equal. If they are, why do you get to tell your children what to do? Why do you get to pass or fail any one of your students, but one of them cannot fail you? Why can a police officer pull you over for speeding, but you cannot pull him over for speeding? Why do you have access to your bank account and I do not? Why do you have a place to live while others do not? Why does our President get to go into the Oval Office whenever he wants, but you cannot?

    All men are not equal – it’s pure, simple fact and cannot be ignored. If you disagree with this, then give me access to your bank account, your home, your wife – after all, if we’re equal, then you should not be allowed to do things that I’m not allowed to. We should have equal power.

  16. Bob:

    You are being a pinhead.

    The operative word in Jefferson’s sentence is “created.” It is the simple recognition of our common humanity, regardless of social class or race (once Lincoln gets a hold of it). If the managers at Walmart (or elsewhere) were to recognize this fact, it really would have no need for a union.

  17. Someone:
    I guess you chose door #3 – Stockholm syndrome.

    It is widely promoted anti-union propaganda that a unionized shop is less profitable than one that is not.

    In fact there is much evidence that shows the opposite. Organized works are more in tune with the goals of the firm if their concerns are actually listened to. Unionized workers have formal procedures that they can use to propose improvements to procedures.

    Unionized workers have better benefits, especially those tied to longevity which makes them less inclined to switch employers. A stable, well trained, workforce is more efficient and productive than one with high turnover.

    Now look at Walmart. They have an estimated 50% turnover each year. As a consequence they spend huge sums on training and replacement. They also have people who don’t know the business, are less able to help customers and have no reason to work harder since they know they are unlikely to stay for long.

    All Walmart does is focus on the single figure of salary per hour. If I were a director of the firm I’d demand bringing in a management consulting firm to see what could be done to improve worker attitude and productivity. But, since the board are all handpicked by the Walton’s it is unlikely that they ever raise any questions about how the firm is managed.

    One has only to look at some of the (unionized) competition to see that paying higher wages does not necessarily lead to lower profits.

    Walmart’s labor attitudes are not rational, they reflect UncleBob’s attitude. Bosses should be able to throw their weight around, just because they can. This is a pure power trip and has nothing to do with profitability or efficiency. It’s also why Walmart is going to stumble badly when the landscape for such behavior shifts.

  18. UncleBob says:

    JR: I know you hate Walmart, but if you think the company really looks at the workforce as sub-human creatures, then I’m not sure there’s much for us to talk about. Besides, this all started over the idea of “equalizing the power between employees and employers”. That’s a long, long way from the idea of treating people as human.

    Robert:
    >”One has only to look at some of the (unionized) competition to see that paying higher wages does not necessarily lead to lower profits.”

    Oh? Which unionized Walmart competitor has higher profits than Walmart?
    :D :D :D

    >”Bosses should be able to throw their weight around, just because they can.”
    You’re absolutely right – they *should* be able to.
    They should not do it.

    See the difference there?

  19. Robert,

    Keep thinking that. We’ll see who’s laughing at the end result of all of this.

  20. Matt Talbot says:

    I do not believe that if I were to open a business that I should be forced to deal with an organization I did not employ and have terms of how I run my business dictated to me by said organization or some third party. That’s not right or fair.

    Unions strengthen the voice of labor, so that they are justly compensated and work in a safe environment. In a perfect world, every boss would be a saintly, prophetic genius and unions would be unnecessary; until that world comes into being, we need things like unions to level the playing field.

  21. Bob:

    Failing to recognize our common humanity does not mean that Walmart treats its employees as sub-human, it means that the company expects to treat them as wage slaves (hence the Abraham Lincoln analogy).

    To quote one Uncle Bob:

    Your “Boss” should be able to… you know, “boss” you around. The “Boss” is in charge. That means they have power – and responsibilities that go along with that.

    There is an entire academic discipline called industrial relations which describes why the situation you describe there is totally impossible because workers are human beings who have feelings and needs, except perhaps workers like you who suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. Unlike Robert, I expect this attitude from Someone because he’s management, and has to think this way in order to move up the food chain. You, on the other hand, have no excuse whatsoever.

  22. UncleBob says:

    I love when the idea of “slavery” is brought into the argument. Because willingly working at a job that you can quit at any time is akin to being kidnapped from your home land, transported millions of miles and forced to work crazy and beaten (to death?). I mean, I can see how those are similar.

    So, if your boss doesn’t boss you around, do you get to freely decide how and when you want to work? Can you decide you just want to teach one, one-hour class a month on basic math and still get paid your full salary?

    Bosses boss. It’s what they do. Again, someone has to be in charge. Someone has to make the decisions. Someone has to be held responsible.

  23. Jonathan Rees says:

    It’s only slavery when management adopts policies from Walmart’s (and your) perspective. Both you and your employer seem to think that work is a one-way street. It’s never is, and when management acts like it is that situation only creates resentment in most workers that you are too obsequious to feel. That’s why, as Robert suggests, happy unionized workers are often the most productive workers around.

  24. UncleBob says:

    Yes, yes… freely working at the place of one’s choice is completely analogous to forced labor, kidnappings, beatings, and killings.

  25. Dude,

    This is why everyone you work with who isn’t management hates you. Go ask them all whether they’re “freely working” there and and see what kind of answers you get. On second thought, don’t bother because they’ll all think you’re a snitch and tell you that Walmart is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if you ARE a snitch with that attitude.

  26. UncleBob says:

    When your points fail, you the go and attack the individual.
    When you can find me someone who is forced to work for Walmart of face beatings, torture or death by a Walmart manager/executive, then your point will be made.

    And everyone I work with hates me because I beat them at Mario. DJ says I cheat, but I don’t – it’s all skill.

  27. Jonathan Rees says:

    No Bob,

    I’m attacking your ideas because they are incoherent. And people have comparing workers to slaves without equating the two situations since about 1820.

    PS It also makes me really angry when people attack the founding principles of the United States of America because they don’t understand history.

  28. UncleBob says:

    “No Bob, I’m attacking your ideas [...]”
    vs.
    “This is why everyone you work with who isn’t management hates you.”

    The twin realities of Jonathan Rees.

  29. You have contempt for your fellow human beings, because you think there situation always boils down to bad choices. Of course they’ll hate you because of those ideas, since they have no bearing on their reality.

  30. UncleBob says:

    You’re completely right, there.

    Except, of course, where I never said anything like that.

    But you’re right, none the less.

    Welcome to Walmart. I love you.

  31. Tom P Noonan says:

    I got terminat from Sam’s Club 6625 on August the 28 2002 from Paul Kingburg the Manager because I was rude to Member like I hit the Member with a Baskets and call her name on August the 26 2002 because I try to get My work done and was too hot in the San Feranado valley on August the 26 2002 they wont let Me apologize to the Member if they rehire Me back the Member will sue Sam’s Club and they will lose their Busniess Sams Club 6625 address is 12920 Foothill Bl San Feranado Ca 91340 Sam’s Club phone number is 818-365-7710 I am very sorry I dont mean to be rude to Member because it is too hot in the San Feranado valley on August the 26 2002 I promise no more be rude to Member like no more hit the Member with a Baskets no more I promise I promise I will say I sm sorry to the MemberI will be polite to Member and I will Respect to Member Sam’s Club 6455 Phone 805-983-2442 if maby Stephanie Reynold work the Manager in Sam’s Club 6455 in Oxard Ca

  32. [...] China, workers have the right and the power to band together to protect management jobs, while some in America say that all workers have to check their right to do anything but follow orders at the door. Oh the [...]

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