Just days before the biggest shopping day of the year, Wal-Mart workers are threatening to walk off the job this Black Friday to protest the company's labor practices. The company has responded with a complaint filed at the National Labor Relations Bureau. Wal-mart is asking for an injunction against the worker rallies, indicating that the world's biggest retailer—and employer—takes these threats very seriously.
The workers are represented by OURWalmart—the Organization United for Respect at Wal-mart, which formed in 2010 and is backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Its web site says workers on Friday will be protesting "Wal-mart's continuing retaliation against associates who speak out for better pay, affordable healthcare, improved working conditions, fair schedules, more hours, and most of all, respect." Wal-mart's Black Friday starts Thanksgiving evening at 8pm.
In its NLRB filing, Wal-Mart argues that the protests Friday are illegal because they exceed the 30-day maximum time allowed for picketing from a union seeking recognition and therefore a formal vote on unionization is required.
But OURWalmart, which has sponsored past walkouts at Wal-mart stores, argues that its organization, not the United Food and Commercial Workers, is sponsoring the protests this week and the group is not pushing for unionization.
The question now, says Michael Santoli, Yahoo! Finance senior columnist, is, "will a lot of people stay away from these stores because they don't want to interact with these protests? Probably not."
The answer complicated by the fact that the Wal-mart shopper is often also the Wal-mart worker.
"At the end of the day most people think 'if I can get a lower price at Wal-mart for that same item, that's where I'm going to go,'" says the Daily Ticker's Aaron Task.
Still, the labor problems at Wal-Mart may not disappear anytime soon and could be gaining momentum. Under the auspices of OURWalmart, 100 associates representing thousands of employees presented executives at Bentonville, Ark. headquarters with a petition for higher pay, affordable healthcare and other demands in June 2011. And last month the organization sponsored walkouts at stores in California and Dallas.
Santoli says these complaints could be viewed in a broader context. "With Obamacare coming in, there's a ton of focus now on the management of hours for hourly workers, and whether you can actively deny people getting enough hours for hourly benefits " in retail and restaurant chains. At the same time, says Santoli and Task, it's not likely Wal-Mart's 1.4 million workers will be unionized anytime soon. In the meantime, Wal-Mart knows how to deal with deal with publicity problems. "They don't blink," says Santoli.
In a separate move, Wal-Mart today announced it will pay its 39.75 cents dividend on December 27 instead of January 2 to to protect against higher interest rates on capital gains in case Congress and the White House can't agree to a plan to avoid the fiscal cliff.
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