Labor Disputes, the Walmart Way

In the last seven years alone, the retail giant has agreed to pay about $1 billion in damages in six different cases related to unpaid work

● The Retail Clerks International Union attempts to organize Wal-Mart Stores employees at two outlets in Missouri. Sam Walton hires lawyer John Tate, who has called unions “blood-sucking parasites,” to stop the drives.
● The International Brotherhood of Teamsters tries to unionize a Walmart distribution center in Searcy, Ark. The company stalls a vote for four years while Walton meets frequently with workers. The Teamsters lose 215 to 67.
● In his autobiography, Sam Walton: Made in America, Walton summed up the company’s position on unions: “I have always believed strongly that we don’t need unions at Wal-Mart. Theoretically I understand the argument that unions try to make, that the associates need someone to represent them and so on. But historically, as unions have developed in this country, they have mostly just been divisive.”
● The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) “blitzes” 300 Walmart supercenters, sending representatives to meat departments to distribute leaflets. Walmart gets a restraining order against the union, which is later reversed by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
● Butchers in a Jacksonville (Tex.) Walmart vote to join UFCW Local 540, spurring union votes at other stores. Two weeks later, Walmart closes its 180 meat counters and switches to prepackaged cuts only, saying it will offer meat cutters other jobs in its stores. “Our decision to expand case-ready meat has nothing to do with what went on in Jacksonville,” Jessica Moser, a company spokeswoman, tells the Associated Press.
● A class action filed in San Francisco, Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes, alleges widespread gender discrimination by Walmart management. Lead plaintiff Betty Dukes claims she was selectively punished and passed over for promotion during her seven years at a California store. It would take 10 years for a decision.
● In a sweep called “Operation Rollback,” federal agents from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrest 250 suspected illegal immigrants from contract cleaning crews at 61 Walmart stores in 21 states and execute a search warrant at the company’s headquarters. Walmart later agrees to pay the government $11 million and improve its oversight of contractors.
● Workers at a Jonquiére (Que.) Walmart vote to join the UFCW, becoming the first unionized store in North America. Walmart closes the store the following year. “You can’t take a store that is a struggling store anyway and add a bunch of people and a bunch of work rules,” Walmart Chief Executive H. Lee Scott Jr. tells the Washington Post.
● Joshua Noble, a 21-year-old employee at the Walmart Tire & Lube Express in Loveland, Colo., convinces the tire shop’s workers to hold a vote to join the UFCW. Walmart flies in a team of labor specialists from Bentonville and transfers six new employees to the shop. Three months later, Noble is the only yes vote in a 17-1 rejection of the union.
● Walmart alters a 15-year-plus policy allowing managers to lock overnight employees inside some stores. The new rule requires managers with keys to be present in order to let workers out in case of emergency.
● A California jury orders Walmart to pay $172 million in damages to 116,000 workers for failing to provide meal breaks. Walmart appeals and later agrees to pay between $77 million and $152 million.
● A Pennsylvania jury orders Walmart to pay $78 million in damages to 187,000 workers for failing to pay for off-the-clock work. On appeal, a judge raises the award to $188 million, which is upheld.
● Walmart agrees to pay $54 million to settle a Minnesota class action over off-the-clock work.
● Two weeks after the Minnesota settlement, Walmart agrees to pay as much as $640 million to settle 63 class actions over unpaid work.
● Walmart agrees to pay $40 million to settle a Massachusetts class action by 87,000 employees for off-the-clock work and shortened breaks.
● Walmart agrees to pay as much as $86 million to settle a California class action over failing to pay vacation and overtime wages to 232,000 workers. Walmart did not concede that the wages remained unpaid, according to Reuters.
● Seeking government approval to buy South African chain Massmart, Walmart promises to honor existing union contracts. (Walmart also negotiates with unions in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and China.) The South Africa Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union and other labor groups send a letter asking the company to end its long-running battle with U.S. labor.
Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes reaches the Supreme Court, and justices rule 5-4 that Walmart can’t be sued for discrimination by all of its female employees. Justice Antonin Scalia writes for the majority that the plaintiffs had provided “no convincing proof of a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy.”
Data: Wal-Mart: The Bully of Bentonville by Anthony Bianco; ABC News; Sam Walton: Made in America by Sam Walton with John Huey; Bloomberg News; In Sam We Trust: The Untold Story of Sam Walton and How Wal-Mart Is Devouring the World by Bob Ortega; Daily News Record; New York Times;; Associated Press;; CNN; Toronto Star; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times;; Adweek; Morningstar Advisor; Reuters