Wal-Mart Threatens Workers Ahead of Black Friday Walkouts
Wal-Mart workers across the country are planning to stage unprecedented walkouts and protests on Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Wal-Mart has sought to counter the effort by filing an unfair labor practice charge against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and, according to critics, threatening workers with retaliation. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! talks with William Fletcher, a Wal-Mart worker and member of the employee advocacy group OUR Walmart; and Josh Eidelson, a contributing writer for The Nation.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: The nation’s largest private employer Walmart is seeking to block a series of protests and actions critical of its labor conditions at stores nationwide. Late last week, Walmart filed an unfair labor practice charge against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, or UFCW, claiming it’s unlawfully trying to disrupt its business. The move comes just days before a group of Walmart workers are preparing to strike on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States. The strike will be accompanied by rallies and flash mobs outside Walmart stores nationwide. One of the groups organizing the protests is OUR Walmart — the Organization United for respect at Walmart. In an advocacy video, Walmart workers explain why they are planning to walk out.
WALMART EMPLOYEE: Because together, we’re stronger than alone.
WALMART EMPLOYEE: Because I like to make a difference for those who are too scared to come forward.
WALMART EMPLOYEE: Because Walmart can afford to pay us enough to live better.
WALMART EMPLOYEE: Stand up, live better.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, to talk more about this, we’re joined by two guests: William Fletcher, a Walmart worker, Josh Eidelson is a contributing writer for The Nation Magazine. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!. Let’s go to William in Los Angeles first. What are your plans for Friday?
WILLIAM FLETCHER: So for Friday, we’re planning to have walked out that many of our stores, the one that I work at already being one of them. We’re hoping to have as much of the community join us so that we can try to make a strong impression so that Walmart will listen to us and end retaliation that happens in the stores nationwide.
More after the jump.
AMY GOODMAN: What are they doing? Why are you protesting?
WILLIAM FLETCHER: Whenever an associate tries to speak out or worker, I should say, tries to speak out to the media or to anyone, really, about what happens in our stores and the way we are treated, they get retaliated against. Many are fired, they’re threatened, pulled into the office with three or four managers and talk to for about an hour or sometimes longer. We are doing it because we don’t want associates to feel that they should be afraid to speak out. It is our rights as American workers and it is our rights as American citizens.
AMY GOODMAN: We invited Walmart to join us on today’s show. They declined our invitation, but Walmart’s national media relations director Kory Lundberg issued this statement, they wrote, "These so-called protests involve a handful of associates at a handful of stores. In fact, most of the protesters don’t even work for Walmart. They’re union organizers and union members who work somewhere else. We are laser-focused on serving customers on Black Friday and we are preparing to have our best Black Friday ever." William Fletcher, can you respond to that statement from Walmart?
WILLIAM FLETCHER: Simply, it is not true. Every member of OUR Walmart is a former Walmart employee. That’s just fact. As to there’s not going to be that many stores participating, we’re looking at about 1000 stores nationwide. I don’t know if anyone would call that small; I would say that’s quite large. As to being union, we are not. We’re just the Walmart employees who have gotten together to say we’re tired of the retaliation, we’re tired of the way we’re being treated.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Josh Eidelson, can you talk about — first of all, respond to what the spokesman said, and also talk about the wider significance of these protests planned for Black Friday.
JOSH EIDELSON: Thanks Nermeen. So Walmart has a public message and private message. The public message is dismissing these workers is a fringe. Dismissing the protests and the strikes as stunts. The private message takes places in captive audience meetings that the company holds on work time. Walmart, not a company that likes to waste money, is paying workers to sit in a room and be lectured to about why they should not participate in these strikes. I talked, for example, to a worker in Oklahoma, I reported for The Nation on a meeting he sat in where a manager read off questions and answers. One question was, if we participate in this action could we be fired? The answer was, no comment. And the manager left. In terms of larger significance, Walmart is a pioneer both in this low wage business model, which even Walmart’s union competitors have had to emulate or chosen to emulate. Walmart is also a pioneer in union busting. And the way that Walmart has perfected of fighting off unionization has been copied by other companies. So if you can beat Walmart, if you can make Walmart say yes when it wants to say no, all kinds of things are possible for the labor movement. If you can’t, there is a cramped future to the labor movement as more companies follow Walmart’s lead.
AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, the group OUR Walmart announced they had filed a charge for the National Labor Relations Board saying Walmart was making illegal threats to relations boards to prevent workers from joining the Black Friday protests. In particular, they cited this statement by Walmart spokesperson David Tovar from Monday’s edition of "CBS Evening News."
This is just another union publicity stunt and the numbers that they’re talking about are grossly exaggerated. If the associates are scheduled to work on Black Friday, we expect them to show up and do their job. If they don’t, depending on the circumstances, there could be consequences.
AMY GOODMAN: Josh Eidelson, can you respond to what this is all about, and Walmart bringing charges against the protesters to the NLRB?
JOSH EIDELSON: My analysis for The Nation of this charge: Walmart would have to prove two things. First, they might be able to prove that UFCW, even though it is not the group named in the protest, has some legal responsibility. What would seem very hard for them to prove, based on everything that’s public, is that these are strikes trying to win union recognition rather than strikes fighting back against retaliation. I have asked Walmart for evidence of that, they haven’t provided any of it. What seems more likely is this charge is designed to make workers think that these strikes are not legally protected, and it’s part of a campaign to make workers believe they could be fired if they participate on Friday.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: William Fletcher, as you have been helping to organize for Black Friday, have people, Walmart workers, spoken to you about these kinds of threats in the event that they do participate?
WILLIAM FLETCHER: Yes, actually, many of them have. A lot of associates are afraid to speak out, and are even afraid for me to speak out. But simply the answer to that is to simply just not be afraid. This company is an expert at propaganda. It is what they do, it’s what they’re great at. That is what they have been doing to us. They have been spreading this fear campaign that makes associates feel if they speak out that something will happen. Again, it is our right as American workers. I cannot stress the importance of everyone that if you see something wrong, feels something is wrong, speak up.
AMY GOODMAN: William Fletcher, we have to leave it there but we will continue to see whether these protests on Black Friday will give Walmart a black eye. William Fletcher has worked in the electronics department in Walmart, in Duarte, California for four years, been a member of OUR Walmart for two years. And thanks so much to Josh Eidelson of The Nation.