October 28, 2008

WAL-MART: NATION'S LEADING UNION BUSTER

Barb Kucera, Workday Minnesota - Want to understand why so many American workers find it so hard to organize unions in their workplaces? Look no further than Wal-Mart, a researcher for Human Rights Watch says.

Wal-Mart is a case study "of the abysmal workers' rights regime we have here in the United States," said Carol Pier, senior researcher on labor rights and trade for Human Rights Watch, an independent, nongovernmental organization that investigates human rights violations around the world.

In a speech last week at the University of Minnesota, Pier described her two-and-one-half-year study of Wal-Mart's labor-management record, which culminated in a 210-page report, issued in 2007. . .

The report found that while many American companies use weak U.S. laws to stop workers from organizing, the retail giant stands out for the sheer magnitude and aggressiveness of its anti-union apparatus. Many of its anti-union tactics are lawful in the United States, though they combine to undermine workers' rights. Others run afoul of soft U.S. laws. . .

Wal-Mart uses a subtle form of union-busting that starts with new employee orientation, where training includes watching an anti-union video, Pier said. The corporation has a 24-hour hotline for managers to report any signs of union organizing activity and a "labor relations team" is quickly dispatched to assess the situation.

Depending on the level of union activity, workers may be subjected to mandatory captive audience meetings where they are lectured on the evils of unionism. In some stores, Wal-Mart has crossed the line from subtle to heavy-handed by conducting surveillance on employees, disciplining and firing some.

When those actions are taken - clearly in violation of U.S. labor law - the failings of the system become clear, Pier said. Wal-Mart takes advantage of the exceedingly slow NLRB process to draw out cases for years. When a worker finally wins a case, the company faces no penalty - other than the requirement to reinstate the worker with back pay (minus anything he or she earned in other employment) and to post a notice saying "they won't do it again."

With nearly 1 million employees in the United States, Wal-Mart is the country's largest private employer. Yet none of these workers belongs to a union. Employees at two stores in Quebec, Canada, finally won union representation, but both stores have been closed - the second one earlier this month.

The International Labor Organization has cited the lack of penalties - and the fact that workers can be "permanently replaced" if they strike - as reasons that U.S. labor law fails to meet international human rights standards, Pier said.

The proposed Employee Free Choice Act - supported by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and many Congressional Democrats - would address some of the shortcomings in U.S. labor law by levying fines of up to $20,000 for each violation and permitting workers to choose union representation by signing cards, bypassing the drawn-out NLRB election process during which many employer violations occur.

REPORT

2 Comments:

At October 28, 2008 2:19 PM, Anonymous curious said...

It would be interesting to know how many workers have subsidized the exportation of their jobs by shopping at Walmart.

 
At October 28, 2008 5:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All this is good to know, but treating the fact that Wal-Mart busts unions as breaking news is a little on a par with reporting the earth revolving around the sun as a major scientific discovery.

 

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