A Black Friday protest outside of a St. Paul, Minnesota Walmart.
CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Leaked internal documents show that Walmart’s strategy for fighting to keep its workers from forming unions includes instructing managers to report suspicious activity and warning workers that joining OUR Walmart could hurt them.
In two Powerpoint presentations, published by OccupyWallSt.org and confirmed as authentic by a Walmart spokesman, the company depicts OUR Walmart organizers as money-hungry exploiters looking to fleece Walmart associates without providing any material benefit to the workers, and it urges managers to nudge workers away from unions while taking care to frame their comments in ways that don’t violate the letter of U.S. labor laws.
One of the presentations is directed at managers and guides them in how to handle any signs of worker unrest. Managers are instructed to report anything resembling union activity or discussions of organizing to the company’s “Labor Relations Hotline,” yet are also warned that “it is unlawful to spy on protected/union activity” and that “it would be illegal” to “interrogate” associates about their opinions of or interest in union representation.
Signs of a budding union problem, according to a slide titled “Early Warning Signs,” include “speaking negatively about wages and benefits” and “ceasing conversations when leadership approaches.” The management presentation appears to include several instructional videos that did not make it into the leaked files in a watchable form, including examples of a strategy the document labels “FOE.” Managers are encouraged to share “Facts, Opinions, and Experiences” relating to unions, while avoiding interrogation or threats. One slide contains suggested managerial opinions:
The other presentation, titled “What you should know about OURWalmart,” appears to be targeted directly at associates. The presentation says that the group “cannot guarantee you anything; except, you’ll pay” dues. OUR Walmart, which stands for the Organization United for Respect at Walmart, was formed in 2011 as a non-union organizing platform to engage Walmart workers in collective action for better pay and working conditions after the company successfully stifled direct unionization efforts for years. The group can’t negotiate worker contracts in the same way a union would, but it is an organizing vehicle that extends labor law protections against retaliation to workers who participate.
Those protections have been crucial as Walmart has disciplined and fired scores of associates for engaging in OUR Walmart protests and discussions. The evidence of illegal retaliation by the company was strong enough to convince the National Labor Relations Board to file charges against Walmart in 13 different states for violations including threats to fire workers who joined strikes and other protests. The strikes began just before Thanksgiving of 2012 with 400 workers and another 30,000 supporters and have escalated since. Nine different Walmart stores saw strikes in the weeks before Black Friday last year, and the day itself featured 1,500 separate protest actions and more than a hundred arrests.
OUR Walmart’s central demand is for the company to commit to paying associates at least $25,000 per year. Walmart workers currently make an average of $8.81 per hour, more than 25 percent less than at similar retailers, and the majority make less than $25,000. Taxpayers subsidize those low wages and poor benefits. A single 300-worker Walmart store accounts for between $900,000 and $1.7 million per year in public benefits costs for its workers.
By contrast, one of the company’s primary competitors, Costco, pays an average wage of $21.96 and enrolls nearly all of its workers in benefits programs. It reported a quarterly profit of $459 million last spring and of $617 million last summer.