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Walmart Shots across the Bow at Union

New Orleans   In the past we’ve tried to suggest that Walmart’s reaction to UFCW’s current organizational efforts are serious and in some cases shrewd, particularly when they pressured their subcontractors at their distribution centers to reinstate workers to avoid obvious unfair labor practice charges in recent months.  Coming on the heels of huge publicity for their work there, UFCW and its OUR affiliate has been promoting “strikes” and other protests for Black Friday, the traditional storm surge of shopping the day after Thanksgiving.  Now, Walmart lawyers have moved to the NLRB to file charges against the UFCW asking for an injunction to stop UFCW from picketing claiming that these pickets are veiled demands for recognition, rather than legitimate protests, and seeking to get the NLRB to enforce the ban on such picking past the 30 day timeline allowed.  Why is Walmart doing this?  Is it a sign that they are threatened by the current organizing or simply taking it seriously?  Or what?

Probably “or what” is the answer.  I can remember the lessons learned by a strike of pari-mutuel clerks at a local racetrack in the New Orleans area 30-years ago that was often discussed by union veterans in this area.  The wags among the old-school union leadership would tut-tut and shake their head in mock concern, saying the union was lucky no one was hurt on their picket line by the stampeding rail birds and bettors trying to get through the picket line and into the track.  The last claim of 88 Walmart strikers is likely to increase for Black Friday, but I will guarantee you that none of them will be in front of the doors of a Walmart store this Friday, or they could absolutely be trampled.

Walmart’s trip to the NLRB is sending a series of warnings to the union.  First, they are trying to make it harder for UFCW to support its OUR alter-ego, and that’s bad.  The UFCW is trying to claim (according to Steven Greenhouse and the New York Times), that OUR might be independent, which is the last thing they should do and would fall right into the company’s trap.  The UFCW needs to embrace OUR as an affiliate for the long term and to pretend it has been or will be anything else is a tactical and strategic error.

The company’s NLRB threat is not real obviously, but is a drag.  It forces OUR and the UFCW to be more careful in their actions and communications to cite real worker grievances about working conditions with real workers.  They will have to make sure none of their picket signs and chants talk about union recognition or something like that.  That’s not that hard, but does force more discipline on the operation and better communication to allies and friends who are excited about supporting the effort.

These are minor irritants that would be successful company moves only if the UFCW allows itself to be buffaloed or somehow disowns its effort.   Organizing Walmart is a long term proposition and the overall strategy being used now is the right one, but the union needs to double down on its commitment not shrink away from it.  At first blush Walmart seems to be getting them to blink even with this head fake to the labor board.  The UFCW needs to stare back and increase the real worker heat and not be confused by the momentary legal skirmishes or the glare of a few television cameras about what kind of organizing marathon that they are now running.