Walmart is actively encouraging store managers to spy on and report subordinate associates who discuss unionization efforts, according to a confidential training manual. Both Walmart employees and union leaders are outraged. The government is said to have launched an informal investigation into Walmart’s employment practices which could trump civil rights.
The 39-page manual, first published on a website associated with Occupy Wall Street (OWS), reminds salaried store managers that their loyalty is first and foremost with Walmart. The manual takes specific aim at the United Food and Commercial Workers union, a group that has organized campaigns in the past aimed at Walmart employees.
The manual paints the company as being associate-friendly, while portraying UFCW and other unions as money-hungry organizations that would do little to fight for better wages and working conditions.
“Unions are a business,” one slide says, “not a club or social organizations — they want associates’ money.”
Managers are told that, by law, they cannot ask associates what their position on union efforts are, but managers are encouraged to express anti-union opinions if an associate has questions about the movement. On one page, Walmart provides a set of talking points that managers are encouraged to use if they are asked by an associate about union activity:
Managers are ordered to “immediately” call a special Walmart labor relations hotline if they suspect associates are discussing union-related activity or if they are approached by an employee with a question about such efforts. Managers are also encouraged to watch out for employees who complain about low wages or bad working conditions — those also warrant a call to the labor hotline, the material says.
A Walmart spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the document to MSNBC in January, saying such tools “are important to [making] sure that our associates are receiving accurate and timely information [about unions].”
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But OWS says claims made in the managerial manual and another non-confidential document distributed to Walmart associates contain misleading claims about the UFCW and their “OUR Walmart” campaign.
“Walmart falsely claims that OUR Walmart is seeking union recognition and trying to build a union, because under U.S. labor law, this would take away some of the rights of striking workers,” OWS wrote. “OUR Walmart workers have gone on strike to stand up to Walmart’s retaliation against workers when they have come together to speak out about issues like decent pay, respect in the workplace and getting enough hours to survive. These are legally protected unfair labor practice strikes. Walmart wants people to believe that these are strikes for union recognition so that it can freely fire and target workers, rather than be forced to obey the law and respect their right to speak up.”
Though Walmart is not alone fighting unionization efforts in the United States — going so far as to publish anti-union literature for employees and confidential training manuals for managers — the company is also receptive to the idea in other countries.
Steven A. Susswein, nicknamed “Fat Swan” is a member of the SEC union who had similar hatred towards his employer, the Securities and Exchange Commission. “I want to get paid more, a whole a lot more – like those Wall Street guys. Show me my money!” Patrick Feeney, anther SEC union member agreed to fight for better pay at the federal regulator.
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Walmart associates in the United Kingdom are protected by a labor union. So are 70 percent of the associates at Walmart-operated stores in China, where union recognition is required by law. About 18 percent of Walmart’s employees in Mexico are part of a union, and their wages are considerably higher compared to employees at competing supermarkets who are not represented by a union.
“We recognize those rights,” Walmart’s Senior V.P. of International Business Development, John Suarez, told The Washington Post in 2011. “In that market, that’s what the associates want, and that’s the prevailing practice.”
Such was the demand in South Africa, a market that caught Walmart’s interest three years ago. When Walmart sought government approval to buy Massmart, a chain of grocery stores, labor groups demanded the usual concessions — buy local, provide good working conditions, pay competitive wages.
But they also made one unexpected demand: South African labor groups ordered Walmart to stop stifling unionization efforts in the United States, saying the company could not violate an associate’s right to form a union simply because “the culture in that country supports it.”
The South African government approved Walmart’s acquisition of Massmart in 2012. The company continues to fight unionization efforts in the United States to this day.