Wal-Mart's Union Fight as Hot as Ever in Court and NLRB

November 22, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Despite a court injunction keeping union officials out of Wal-Mart's 3,200 US stores, the nation's largest private employer continues locked in an intense struggle to keep one of the nation's largest private-sector unions from getting a toe hold anywhere in its organization.

The result: The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) four-year organizing effort has yielded almost no converts among Wal-Mart’s more than 900,000 US workers, the National Law Journal reported.

The two sides have gone far beyond the four walls of Wal-Mart’s discount merchandise and food stores. Not only did Wal-Mart win an unusually sweeping injunction from an Arkansas state court barring UFCW  soliciting in any of its stores, but the UFCW turned to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the National Law Journal story said.

Various administrative law judges around the country have ruled that the giant retailer has violated the National Labor Relations Act.

An Injunction Loophole

The national scope of the March 15 injunction Wal-Mart won in an Arkansas court may be unusual, but the union has found a loophole it is enthusiastically exploiting, according to the Law Journal article.

Because the injunction only applies to officials of the UFCW International and not to the union’s rank-and-file members or locals, UFCW members are going into Wal-Mart stores to solicit the employees, according to the Law Journal. The only difference: union officials can’t coordinate such efforts under the terms of the injunction.

But still, union officials admit that the Arkansas ruling significantly complicates their organizing activities.   “It is a lot easier if you can meet with employees on the job,” Al Zack, AFL-CIO assistant director of strategic programs, told the National Law Journal.

For its part, Wal-Mart is unapologetic.

“It was made necessary by the frequency with which the union came onto our property,” Wal-Mart spokesman Bill Wertz told the National Law Journal. “The conduct was part of a coordinated effort, so it made sense for us to address this in one proceeding.”

The Arkansas Supreme Court has agreed to hear a UFCW appeal of the injunction. The National Law Journal said or al arguments are expected early in 2003.

Judges Rule Against Wal-Mart

It’s a different story on the administrative front where the union has won NLRB rulings that Wal-Mart store managers have, among other things:

  • unfairly disciplined pro-union employees
  • illegally threatened employees with reprisals for engaging in organizing activity
  • wrongfully threatened employees with losing benefits if the union came in
  • illegally interrogated employees about their union activities
  • discriminatorily prohibited UFCW agents from engaging in lawful hand billing of employees, while allowing other organizations to engage in solicitation on store premises.

Wertz, the Wal-Mart spokesman, said the union allegations are just mudslinging and the adverse rulings have been comparatively small given the company’s gargantuan size.

Yet these alleged labor law violations are having a big impact on the organizing drive, according to the UFCW’s Zack. “The employees are scared to death,” he told the National Law Journal. “They are afraid that if they mention the word ‘union’ in the store, they will be fired. This makes it significantly harder to organize them.”