Walmart Workers Plan Strike for Black Friday

Posted November 21, 2012 in Labor and Employment by

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Workers at 1,000 Walmart stores across the country are planning a strike for the biggest shopping day of the year in an effort to protest what they say is the retailer’s history of retaliating against them for their efforts to secure better working conditions.

Despite Walmart’s attempt to stop them with a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), workers’ groups say the Black Friday strike is on.


Union Activity at Issue

Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) is the group officially organizing the strike. It is affiliated with United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), a much larger union that Walmart believes is behind the strike and other protests that have been going on for months.

Walmart filed a complaint with the NLRB on Nov. 15 against the UFCW, saying the protests are an illegal unfair business practice because they involve picketing to force WalMart to recognize a union.

Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), special rules apply if that is the case, says Marcia McCormick, a professor at St. Louis University School of Law who specializes in employment and labor law.

“If the purpose [of the picketing] is to get the company to recognize a union,” she explains, “then the employees have to file a petition to hold a union election within thirty days of the continuous picketing or else the picketing becomes an unfair labor practice.”

“I don’t think that WalMart has a very good case,” McCormick adds.


Respect Is Goal of Strike

The UFCW says that’s not what the protests are about and that Walmart’s filing with the NLRB is a lame attempt to stop what it says are lawful protests.

“Associates are exercising their freedom to speak out in protest of Walmart’s unfair actions against their coworkers,” says the UFCW. “There’s nothing in the law that gives an employer the right to silence workers and citizens.”

OUR Walmart adds that the Black Friday strike is aimed at protesting “Walmart’s continuous acts of retaliation against those of us who speak out for better pay, affordable healthcare, improved working conditions, fair schedules, more hours, and most of all, respect.”


Strike Is a Gamble That Could Pay Off

Professor Marcia McCormick

Workers’ right to strike is governed by federal law, says McCormick. But they do run the risk of losing their jobs – temporarily or even permanently – if they strike. 

“WalMart can try to hire workers to replace the strikers,” she explains, but whether those replacement workers are only temporary or can be permanent depends on the reason for the strike.

During strikes in which workers are protesting a specific unfair labor practice, the employer can only hire temp workers. If the strike is about better pay or benefits, they can be permanent, but the striking workers would be able to reapply for the jobs – and can’t be discriminated against because they struck.

McCormick says the Walmart workers have chosen a good time to take on the retail giant. “Low-wage workers in high-turnover industries rarely have a lot of economic power over their employers,” she points out.

“However, Black Friday is the day that retailers like WalMart are likely to be more vulnerable than usual,” McCormick says. “The greater the economic threat, the more likely the workers will gain some reforms.”

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