Wal-Mart worker group splits in two; both sides vow to continue wage fight

A Walmart department manager helps stock shelves with school supplies in San Diego.
Mike Blake | Reuters

A Wal-Mart Stores worker group that has been one of the loudest voices pushing the retailer to boost wages and improve conditions has splintered over a disagreement about funding and strategic direction, according to people on both sides of the split.

Both wings are claiming the name OUR Walmart and vow to continue their work, moves that could sow confusion among supporters.

The United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which for years has provided important funding and resources to the OUR Walmart worker group, will only financially support the wing that it believes represents the broader set of workers.

An employee arranges frozen turkeys displayed for sale at a Walmart Store in Los Angeles.
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"Recently we had a group split from us," said Barbara Getz, who said she is head of the health and safety team for the OUR Walmart grouping that is sticking with UFCW.

She said the union has been "unwavering" in its support.

The other group is relaunching with the OUR Walmart name and new funding partners, said Dan Schlademan, a former UFCW employee who said he is co-director of this employee group.

"The organization is moving forward with 20-plus partners and a plan to continue its work," said Schlademan. Those partners are workers' rights organizations.

Some large labor unions have backed minimum wage retail and restaurant workers' efforts to get higher pay and better benefits from large employers such as Wal-Mart and McDonald's Corp, without the certainty of adding members from those hard-to-organize industries.

The UFCW-backed OUR Walmart was instrumental in winning a pay raise for half a million U.S. Wal-Mart workers earlier this year, but the prospect of unionizing Wal-Mart's workforce is seen as an elusive goal. UFCW recently cut funding to OUR Walmart, according to Schlademan.

Schlademan said his side includes the original board and all of the worker members.

They include Cindy Murray, a founding OUR Walmart board member and Walmart employee from rural Maryland.

"We are the true group ... We're widening our horizons," said Murray, who added that her side would welcome a partnership with UFCW.

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OUR Walmart has pushed for $15 per hour wages, full-time rather than part-time schedules and the right to join the worker group without retaliation.

The UFCW-backed OUR Walmart will unveil a new strategy on Thursday that will include new grass-roots actions, a social-media push and an elected advisory council for the campaign, union spokeswoman Jessica Levin said.

Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick said that union pressure did not influence the company's decisions.

He said while "unions and allies they fund spend time and membership dues attacking" the company, it had spent $1 billion this year to raise wages and was working to provide training and other opportunities to its 1.4 million U.S. employees.