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How Federal Law Helps Wal-Mart Fight Unionization

Federal law gives employees the right to form, join, and assist labor unions. This allows employees to act together for their own benefit. Federal law also allows unionized laborers to choose representatives to bargain with employers on their behalf. Therefore, it may seem surprising that federal law has also allowed Wal-Mart to discourage unionization, often within legal limits.

"Discounting Rights: Wal-Mart's Violation of U.S. Workers’ Right to Freedom of Association" is a 2007 report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW.) In it, they describe the methods Wal-Mart uses to prevent the formation of labor unions that are in compliance with U.S. laws. Essentially, it is not illegal in the U.S. to use indoctrination and spin to influence employees.

New employees are subjected to presentations that communicate Wal-Mart's anti-union stance. They are shown propagandized videos of picket lines becoming violent and other scenes to make them wary of unionization and organization.

In violation of international standards, the U.S. government does not require that employees be given the opportunity to hear from union supporters. It is perfectly legal in the United States to barrage workers with one-sided, arguably untrue viewpoints, and prevent them from accessing information from other sources. It is a fine line between this and lying to your employees. 

New managers are also indoctrinated against labor unions, and given what Wal-Mart calls a "Manager's Toolbox" full of responses to any employee questions about organization or any suspected union activity.

One item in the Toolbox is the Open Door Policy. Wal-Mart encourages employees to approach any manager with questions or concerns. They take the stance that because they are so responsive to employees, employees don't need to be represented by any union member or leader. Wal-Mart tells their employees that they will gladly help them individually. The problem is that Wal-Mart is only willing to help employees when it suits Wal-Mart. A union would make employee needs a first priority. 

Wal-Mart instructs managers who suspect any discussion of organization among employees to call their hotline. When a manager calls the hotline, Wal-Mart sends out their labor relations representatives, who descend upon the offending store and subject employees to more anti-union propaganda.

The last part of the legal anti-union pressure may be obvious. While nobody will come out and say, "If you talk about unions, you are fired," that is what the employees fear, and with good reason. That is exactly what Wal-Mart did in 2000 when Wal-Mart butchers in Texas voted to unionize. Two weeks later, Wal-Mart shut down its meat cutting counters and switched to only pre-cut meats. They denied that the decision had anything to do with the vote to unionize, and publicly promised to employ the butchers in other jobs.

Lack of rules, regulations, and negative consequences for businesses in the United States have allowed Wal-Mart to stamp out attempts to organize among its workers.

Tell Us What You Think

Are you in a labor union? If not, would you like to be? Leave us a comment below. 

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(Photo Credit: faul/Flickr)

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