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Labor Board to Rule on Wal-Mart UFCW Complaint Quickly

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s charge that workers at some of its stores are engaging in unfair labor practices may be answered by the National Labor Relations Board as soon as today.

The complaint, filed Nov. 16 against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, takes priority over other business, Nancy Cleeland, a labor board spokeswoman, said in an interview. The agency has a target of responding to such requests within 72 hours.

“By law, under the National Labor Relations Act, this kind of charge has to take priority over every other thing we have going on,” Cleeland said yesterday in an interview. “We are putting extra resources into this and trying to come to a decision as quickly as possible.”

Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart accused the union of violating federal labor laws by inappropriately picketing, demonstrating, trespassing on company property and intimidating customers and employees -- or making threats to do those things. The union has tried to force Wal-Mart to the bargaining table even though it doesn’t officially represent employees, according to Wal-Mart’s filing. The retailer asked the board for an investigation and immediate injunction.

“We are pleased the NLRB has made this a top priority,” Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove said in an e-mail. “Our focus remains on Black Friday and providing our customers with a great experience, great items and unbelievable prices.”

‘Black Friday’

The union, representing more than 1.3 million workers in grocery and retail stores and the meatpacking industry, said Wal-Mart workers began walking off the job Nov. 14 at stores and warehouses in California. The strikes are the first of what the group said are 1,000 protests planned in Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Minnesota and Washington ahead of “Black Friday” on Nov. 23, the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday and traditionally a major shopping day.

Jill Cashen, a UFCW spokeswoman, said the union welcomes the expedited consideration by the labor board.

“We feel confident that the board will deny Wal-Mart’s request to silence the UFCW and our allies,” she said in a phone interview.

Labor board attorneys have interviewed officials at Wal-Mart headquarters and seeking to speak to union officials named in the complaint. A decision on the company’s request for an injunction to stop the protests will be made by the board general counsel’s office, Cleeland said.

If the board rules in Wal-Mart’s favor, it must seek an injunction in district court.

Workers are protesting what the union said was Wal-Mart’s manipulation of hours and benefits, efforts to keep people from working full time and discrimination against women and minorities.

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