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.