Wal-Mart employees make 25 percent less than their unionized counterparts and struggle to climb out of poverty, but the retail giant continues to squash any efforts to unionize.
Though Wal-Mart employs more Americans than any other organization in the U.S. besides the federal government, it continues to have arguably one of the worst reputations in terms of how it treats its employees.
Known for its low wages, which it says it pays employees in order to continue offering its customers low prices, Wal-Mart has made headlines in recent years for the various ways that executives have mistreated the company’s employees.
As Wal-Mart employees have started to push back and form a union-like group to fight for better working conditions, it’s become increasingly clear just how staunchly anti-union the company is and how far they are willing to go to prevent a third-party intervention.
The multinational retailer’s official statement on unions is: “At Wal-Mart, we respect the individual rights of our associates and encourage them to express their ideas, comments and concerns. Because we believe in maintaining an environment of open communications, we do not believe there is a need for third-party representation.”
Though the company is opposed to unions, its employees seem to favor unionization, especially when Wal-Mart’s wages are so low that workers struggle to escape poverty. Any time its employees get too close to forming a union, however, the company intervenes, likely because unionized workers earn about 25 percent more than their Wal-Mart counterparts.
Wal-Mart employees are currently fighting to earn at least $25,000 per year.
Dubbed “a case study of what is wrong with American labor law” by Human Rights Watch, Wal-Mart employees say they want to unionize because the company engages in a slew of wrongful activities such as denying bathroom breaks, denying promotions to female employees and paying women less than men.
Since Wal-Mart has made it perfectly clear how it feels about unions, anyone who decides to try to unionize is punished.
For example, after 51 percent of the associates at one Wal-Mart store in Jonquiere, Quebec, voted to unionize, the first-ever unionized Wal-Mart closed in April 2005, shortly after the associates signed their union cards.
And when members of a Texas Wal-Mart’s meat-cutting department formed a union in 2000, the company announced that meat-cutting departments would be phased out of its stores nationwide.
While it may sound like a coincidence to some, in January, Occupy Wall Street published internal training materials from the retail giant, detailing how the company squashes its associates’ attempts to unionize. Occupy Wall Street likely obtained the documents via the online hacktivist group Anonymous.
Though it was known that “new employees are shown videotapes explaining that instead of unionizing, they benefit from the open door policy, allowing them to take their complaints beyond the supervisors to higher management,” the leaked PowerPoint slides detail just how fiercely Wal-Mart works to keep unions out of its business.
For instance, one slide claims that groups such as OUR Walmart are only looking to take the associates’ money from employees — $5 a month — that Wal-Mart “takes care” of. But as Occupy Wall Street pointed out, “Walmart actually costs tax-payers $900,000 a store in subsidies because they care so poorly for their associates. Recently, a store Walmart held a food drive, for its own workers who can’t afford to eat.”
As for the company’s “open door policy,” it only applies to one worker at a time, meaning that Wal-Mart only deals with its employees’ concerns and complaints on an individual basis and doesn’t allow groups to lodge a complaint. When an employee does have a conversation with a supervisor or higher-up official, if the employee hints at wanting to unionize or asks about unions, the supervisor is required to report that “activity” to the company’s Labor Relations hotline immediately.
Supervisors were also told to look for “Early Warning Signs” of unionization and for employees who are “[s]peaking negatively about wages and benefits” or “ceasing conversations when leadership approaches.”
“Walmart’s aggressive anti-worker campaign is real, it is ugly and unnecessary,” said Dominic Ware of Leandro, Calif., an OUR Walmart member and former associate. “Instead of spending money on these misleading and false campaigns to intimidate workers and their rights, Walmart should be focused on publicly committing to improving jobs, raising wages and making sure that workers are able to raise their concerns without fear of illegal retaliation.”