Unions Slam Wal-Mart in 'Largest Ever' Organizing Effort

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Representatives of two of the nation's largest labor unions joined former employees of the largest retail chain in the country Monday at the kickoff of what sponsors admit will be the largest union organizing effort in history.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is "a corporate outlaw," according to Doug Dority, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), an affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

"We've never gone at any other company like we're gonna go at Wal-Mart," Dority promised.

John Sweeny, president of the AFL-CIO, concurred.

"This is a monumental campaign," he added. "It will probably be the largest organizing campaign that any union has undertaken in the history of our country."

Gretchen Adams, who identified herself as a former Wal-Mart store "co-manager," said she left the company after being "directed to commit a lot of illegal acts," including intentionally not hiring applicants with union affiliations or backgrounds.

"You can bet that if you have any union affiliations, that you will be targeted by Wal-Mart, if you work for them, to see just how big of a threat that you're going to pose to them," she claimed.

Adams supports the union organizing drive and is also participating in a class-action lawsuit filed by current and former employees, accusing the retailer of gender-based discrimination against its female employees.

Sweeney complained that Wal-Mart's wages are too low, their health insurance premiums too high, and that the company claims an employee is "full-time" if they work as few as 28 hours per week.

"They are profiting off the exploitation of their own employees," he claimed, adding that Wal-Mart should, "treat their employees the same way their competition is treating them in highly organized [unionized] chains of stores all across the country."

Dority agreed, and lamented the unions' inability to recruit new members from the ranks of Wal-Mart employees.

"I've been in the labor movement for 40 years and working with retail operations all over, and I can tell you that I've never seen any company that so badly exemplifies the worst case scenario of doing business as Wal-Mart," he claimed.

"They don't have a single person in their operation that's union, and they make everybody know that, to mention a union, you're going to get in trouble," Dority added.

Wal-Mart Responds

Wal-Mart spokesman Bill Wertz told CNSNews.com that the union's campaign against the highly-successful company is "nothing new," and that the company has been the "chief target of the UFCW" for several years.

"The union has tried, unsuccessfully to organize our associates and now seems to be focusing primarily on trying to discredit the company in the eyes of our customers," he charged.

That failure is partly due, Wertz believes, to the union's strategy of trying to recruit Wal-Mart employees based on a false premise that the company intentionally provides poor wages and benefits to keep prices low.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said.

Wal-Mart's wages and benefits are "very competitive," Wertz claimed, noting that employees - which the company calls "associates" - can participate in one of the most successful profit-sharing plans in America.

"Wal-Mart is a very cost-conscious company and we have a variety of methods to increase efficiency and to keep costs low so that we can offer low prices to customers," he added. "But short-changing our own people is not one of those methods."

Wertz seemed puzzled by Sweeny's displeasure that the company considers employees working as few as 28 hours per week "full-time" associates.

"We do consider someone who works 28 hours full-time," Wertz explained, adding that those employees become eligible for benefits not available to part-time workers. "We consider that to be a benefit."

Unions Trying to 'Preserve Jobs Against Competition'

If the unions' goal is truly to recruit new members, Wertz questions their tactics.

"If Wal-Mart succeeds in an area, they feel union jobs may be threatened," he concluded. "So it's more about preserving the union jobs that they have against any competition than it is organizing Wal-Mart associates."

The unions and a handful of liberal women's and "civil rights" groups are planning a "day of action" against Wal-Mart Nov. 21 to "hold Wal-Mart accountable to community demands." Events being organized at the local level were said to include possible picket lines, boycotts, and announcements of additional lawsuits against the company.

Wertz is hopeful that Wal-Mart's customers and associates will see what he believes is the true motivation behind the unions' campaign.

"If they were seeking to organize our associates, I don't think they would be simultaneously trying to discredit the company," he speculated. "We have associates coming in who are very puzzled by an organization claiming to have their best interests in mind, and wanting to be their agent, while at the same time doing everything possible to hurt our business all around the country."

E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.