Wal-Mart Workers are Seeing Red on Black Friday

By Danielle Gonnella

One of America’s largest retailers and private employers with 1.4 million employees, Wal-Mart, may face some troubles staffing its stores this holiday season. Wal-Mart workers are in the midst of record-setting “Black Friday” protests that could culminate in thousands of strikes over a nine-day span in areas such as Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Richmond, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C.  The workers, who are part of a union-backed coalition called Making Change at Wal-Mart, have previously not been able to unionize due to mobilization issues in the face of strong resistance by Wal-Mart.  Common grievances by employees include low wages, lack of a company health care contribution, loss of hours, retaliation for complaints against working conditions, and promotional discrimination.

Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg called the strike, “just another exaggerated publicity campaign aimed at generating headlines to mislead” retailers and customers, however with strikes already taking shape in some areas of the country it might be wishful thinking on Mr. Lundberg’s part. Mr. Lundberg believes the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (“UFCW”) is orchestrating the protests. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman has recently said that the number of workers represented in the strike is considerably small, however, even a small number of workers could make a large impact on the company’s Black Friday takings, including scaring shoppers off once they see the store protests.

The push for unionization begs the question of whether or not it’s mutually beneficial for workers and unions to combine forces, or whether the union-led protests are an attempt to further the unions’ financial and political agenda. It would be hard to believe that a union would willingly go up against such a big adversary as Wal-Mart without a common belief that unionization is necessary for the good of the workers. Currently, workers in over 27 states are suing Wal-Mart for wage and hour violations. In December, in a decision out of Oregon, Wal-Mart was found guilty of systematically forcing employees to work overtime without compensation. The company also faces sexual-discrimination charges centered on allegations of wrongful denial of promotions to female employees. Recently, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) fined a Wal-Mart seafood supplier for wage and hour violations, and Human Rights Watch has spoken out about Wal-Mart’s failure to regulate overseas suppliers, including a seafood supplier in Thailand accused of debt bondage and deplorable working conditions.