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Walmart: Are the workers' demonstrations illegal?

Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn
Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn

Walmart has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that demonstrations by its employees and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) have violated the National Labor Relations Act. In an open letter to the UFCW, Walmart said that "the UFCW seeks to force Walmart to meet and bargain with the union over employee terms and conditions of employment, without its associates ever having had an opportunity to vote on whether they wish to unionize and affiliate with their organization."

David Tovar, Walmart's Vice President of Communications, said that Walmart had offered to meet with unhappy employees, but that the union had illegally insisted on having representation present in those meetings. "Our CEO said if any associate has any concern, we would absolutely sit down with them and talk about it," said Tovar. "But the union wants to do that with them at their side, and that part is illegal."

Walmart's complaint says the UFCW, through a subsidiary organization called Making Change at Walmart, violated Section 8(b)(7)(C) of the National Labor Relations Act by holding recognitional picketing—that is, demonstrations to demand union representation for the workforce—for over a month without ever filing a petition to hold union elections. The complaint comes in response to several months of sporadic strikes and demonstrations at various Walmart stores and warehouses around the country. The labor actions, which are expected to culminate in a dramatic walkout on Black Friday, are in response to what participating workers say are low wages and poor working conditions.

Tovar strenuously denied the charges against Walmart, and said that the strikes are predominantly union-driven. "We don't believe that with everything our associates have ... that workers can get a better deal by organizing," he said. "And time and time again, our associates have concluded that as well." In fact, he claimed, Walmart felt compelled to take legal action only after a large number of employees had complained about union demonstrations.

UFCW representatives were not immediately available for comment, but union Communications Director Jill Cashen told Reuters, "Walmart is grasping at straws. There's nothing in the law that gives an employer the right to silence workers and citizens."