Wal-Mart’s Union Complaint Shelved by U.S. Labor Board

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. won a 60-day hiatus from picketing at its U.S. stores in a settlement between a labor union and the world’s largest retailer arranged through the National Labor Relations Board.

The commitments offered by United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the labor-backed OUR Walmart made it unnecessary to act on a complaint the company filed two months ago, the board’s general counsel said yesterday in a statement. The agency will drop the case in six months if the union keeps its commitments, according to the statement.

“It sounds as if it’s a win for Wal-Mart,” Gary Chaison, a labor professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, said in an interview. “Wal-Mart represents that huge trough of unorganized workers. It’s such a ripe organizing target.”

Wal-Mart filed an unfair labor complaint against the union in early November, saying the UFCW was illegally picketing at its stores ahead of “Black Friday” after Thanksgiving, one of the busiest shopping days of the year. The protests organized by OUR Walmart were the latest challenge against the retailer that has succeeded in thwarting efforts to organize its 1.4 million U.S. employees.

The NLRB accord “allows the UFCW to continue its support for the brave leaders of OUR Walmart and the tens of thousands of supporters who stand with them,” according to an e-mailed statement from the union. “Wal-Mart workers and their supporters will continue their call for change at Walmart and an end to its attempts to silence workers who speak out for better jobs.”

Improve Conditions

The union, representing more than 1.3 million workers in grocery and retail stores and the meatpacking industry, said the protests at Wal-Mart were simply meant to help employees improve working conditions.

The retailer, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, praised the deal working out with the board.

“This is good news for our associates, who have asked us to stand up to this conduct because they understand better than anyone the opportunities Wal-Mart offers,” David Tovar, a company spokesman, said in a statement. “Our associates can now move forward knowing that the UFCW must stop its illegal and disruptive activities.”

As part of an agreement, the union and OUR Walmart must post a notice on a website for Wal-Mart employees saying it is not seeking to organize workers and and refrain from picketing for 60 days, according to a Jan. 30 memorandum from the board’s Office of General Counsel released with the statement.

‘Few Restrictions’

“The settlement from OUR Walmart provides very few restrictions to their ability to protest,” John Logan, professor and director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, said in a statement. “The company-workers can continue to speak out and take action, from protests to strikes, to improve working conditions at Wal-Mart.”

The union said Wal-Mart workers began walking off the job Nov. 14 at stores and warehouses in California. The strikes were the first of 1,000 planned protests in Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Minnesota and Washington ahead of Nov. 23, the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday and traditionally a major shopping day.

In a Nov. 23 statement, Wal-Mart said it knew of protests at only 26 stores.

‘Protest, Demonstrate’

The union has tried to force Wal-Mart to bargain even though it doesn’t officially represent employees, according to Wal-Mart’s filing. The retailer asked the NLRB to determine the picketing violated labor rules. The board put the case in abeyance after the union and OUR Walmart offered commitments.

“This does not affect or limit OUR Walmart members’ and supporter’s ability to otherwise protest, demonstrate against or strike because of Wal-Mart’s unfair practices and poor record on labor rights,” OUR Walmart said in an e-mailed statement.

Workers were 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.

OUR Walmart said the retailer’s managers use threats to deter workers from participating in the demonstrations.

The food workers’ union “contended that the actions at the stores were not intended to gain union recognition, but to help employees in their efforts to have the employer commit to certain labor rights and standards,” the labor board said in a statement. Wal-Mart’s case “will be held in abeyance and dismissed in six months as long as the union complies with the commitments it has made.”

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