Indeed, one might ask, if unions are doing as little for workers as Walmart maintains, why then does Walmart bother to battle unions so aggressively? Walmart takes a far more jaundiced view of unions than do many Americans—for instance the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops. “The Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions,” the bishops once wrote in a pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All. And Pope John Paul II, never known as a raging liberal, called unions, “an indispensable element of social life.”
Brian Nick, a Walmart spokesman, explained why the company made the video. “The core reason to have the training and information on video, in and of itself, is we know that third-party groups often reach out to our associates,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to provide accurate information that gives our associates knowledge about their work environment and their own rights as associates.”
In boasting about Walmart, the video says, “Walmart jobs are flexible jobs, giving associates the opportunity to balance our personal life with our worklife.” But Carrie Gleason, director of the Fair Workweek Initiative at the Center for Popular Democracy, an advocacy group, strongly disagreed. “I’ve spoken with countless Walmart associates who talk about how erratic their work schedules are, about how managers regularly disregard their requests for basic accommodations so they can go to school or take care of their families,” she said. Some Walmart workers say their stores slashed their hours when they asked managers to accommodate their college schedule or their efforts to hold a second job to make ends meet.
Brian Nick, the Walmart spokesman, said the company was improving its scheduling practices. Beginning next year, it will offer some employees fixed schedules each week—many employees complain that their work schedules change vastly week-to-week.
In urging workers to shun unions, the Walmart video says, “In recent years, union organizers have spent a lot of time, effort and money trying to convince Walmart associates to join a union, all without any success.” But that’s not quite true. The UFCW hasn’t sought to persuade Walmart employees to join a union in recent years, although it did help form OUR Walmart to push for better wages and working conditions. OUR Walmart claimed a victory in February when Walmart announced it would raise its base pay to $9 this year and $10 next year. A spokesperson for Walmart said it was responding to a tighter labor market and boasted that the move would mean raises for 500,000 workers.
The Walmart video is correct about at least one thing: Most of the recent unionization votes at Walmart stores in the U.S. were unsuccessful. For example, the tire and lube workers at two Walmart stores, in Colorado and Pennsylvania, voted overwhelmingly in 2005 against unionizing. But the UFCW had a big success in 2004, when it unionized a Walmart in Jonquiere, Quebec—a first in North America. Walmart closed that store shortly afterward, and Canada’s Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the shutdown was an illegal ploy to avoid having a union. Walmart has long argued that it closed the Jonquiere store because it was unprofitable and that the closing had nothing to do with the union. As for Walmart’s decision to suddenly begin using prepackaged meat after that meat department in Texas unionized in 2000, the company said that the timing was just a coincidence and that the decision had nothing to do with unionization.
This past April, Walmart abruptly announced it was closing its store in Pico Rivera, California, along with four other stores, for six months. Many workers saw that as a daunting anti-union statement—the Pico Rivera store has the nation’s most militant OUR Walmart chapter, having staged a sit-in and numerous other protests. Walmart, however, insisted that the closing was necessitated by “ongoing plumbing issues.”