Walmart takes legal step to stop workers' Black Friday rallies
Walmart Stores Inc is taking its first legal step to stop months of protests and rallies outside Walmart stores, targeting the union that it says is behind such actions.
Walmart filed an unfair labor practice charge Friday against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, or UFCW, asking the National Labor Relations Board to halt what the retailer says are unlawful attempts to disrupt its business.
The move comes just before what is expected to be the largest organized action against the world's largest retailer, as a small group of Walmart workers prepare to strike on Black Friday, typically the busiest shopping day of the year.
The OUR Walmart group of current and former Walmart employees has been organizing 1,000 protests including strikes and what it called online actions that began last week and will culminate on Black Friday.
"We are taking this action now because we cannot allow the UFCW to continue to intentionally seek to create an environment that could directly and adversely impact our customers and associates," Walmart spokesman David Tovar said. "If they do, they will be held accountable."
The union is undeterred. "Walmart is grasping at straws," said UFCW Communications Director Jill Cashen. "There's nothing in the law that gives an employer the right to silence workers and citizens."
Protests and rallies outside Walmart stores around the country and other actions such as flash mobs have been orchestrated by groups including OUR Walmart, a coalition of thousands of current and former Walmart workers that wants to collectively push for better wages, benefits and working conditions.
"Wal-Mart is in effect firing a shot across the bow of the UFCW, essentially saying 'Look, you can expect this and more unless you desist,'" said Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in labor issues.
Filing with the NLRB suggests that the protests have caught the attention of Walmart, which has no union-represented workers in the United States.
OUR Walmart and another group, Making Change at Walmart, are affiliated with the UFCW, which represents more than 1 million workers including many at retailers that compete with Walmart. According to a filing with the Labor Department, OUR Walmart was a subsidiary of the UFCW as of 2011.