Union Again Gearing Up for Wal-Mart Unionization Battle

November 19, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Union leaders are gearing up for another try at unionizing Wal-Mart, the nation's largest corporation.

Supporting the new effort by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union are the National Organization for Women, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and United Students Against Sweatshops, the Associated Press reported.

Labor leaders say the civil rights and other groups whose help unions seek can strengthen organized labor’s hand in pressuring the giant retailer to improve wages and working conditions.

Rallies are set Thursday in 40 cities.

Wal-Mart’s “Always Low Prices” guarantee comes with a big price, coalition leaders say. They claim the company keeps unions out with intimidation, harassment and threats.

The company is not anti-union, spokesman Wertz said. “We are striving to keep the close relationship and direct communication we’ve always had within our stores, and we feel a union as an agent or third party would interfere with that,” he told the AP.

Thousands of lawsuits are filed annually against the company alleging workplace abuse. Wal-Mart is fighting 38 different state and federal lawsuits filed by hourly workers in 30 states, accusing the company of systematically forcing them to work long unpaid hours, the AP reported.

Wal Mart: Not Guilty

Union officials say Wal-Mart workers are underpaid, and two-thirds can’t afford the company’s health insurance. The new coalition says the average Wal-Mart worker makes $6.15 to $8.50 an hour and works about 32 hours per week. Workers wanting family health insurance must pay $192.05 every two weeks, or about a third of their wages, the AP said.

Wal-Mart said the union was off base. “We simply do not shortchange our people,” spokesman Bill Wertz told the AP. “We offer our associates very competitive wages and benefits.”

The only union success at a Wal-Mart came in 2000 in the butcher’s department in a Jacksonville, Texas, store. After seven of 10 butchers voted to join the UFCW, Wal-Mart announced it was closing its meat-cutting departments in favor of prepackaged meat, the AP said.

Wertz said the company does not track how much it pays on average. About 80% of employees work full time, most at least 37 hours a week, although 33 hours is considered full-time, he said.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Arkansas., is the world’s largest private company with 3,200 US stores and 1,100 other locations worldwide, posting $218 billion in sales last year. None of its 1.3 million employees belongs to a union.