Re impending grocery workers strike: Why can't WalMart clerks organize?

The clerks employed by all three major chains here are about to go on strike, because management is demanding significant givebacks in benefits and wages. The argument is essentially that when WalMart comes to town with its low-paid, non-unionized staff, and begins selling groceries in direct competition with Albertsons or Safeway, then the employees at the latter stores have to take the hit. If the the clerks don’t cooperate, allowing management to cut prices, then WalMart will steamroller everyone else in the marketplace with its rockbottom prices.

So why do WalMart employees stand for it? Why don’t they organize, or join an existing union, and demand better wages? It’s not as if their jobs can be sent to China. You can’t sell groceries to people in L.A. from a store in Peking.

Depending on location and some other issues many other stores will stay in business just fine with a new Walmart. A few will lay off staff to stay profitable when and if business drops off. A few will fold but that does not mean their customers now go to walmart, some will move to other stores that are still open, bringing back some of their market share.

They just don’t care. A hefty portion of Walmart employees are part timers and students who have little to gain from unionization anyway.

IIRC Walmart crushes unionization attempts in ways that make Machivelli look like Mickey mouse.

Many people including walmart employees included see unions as bad things.

So getting a bunch of part timers and short timers to organize against their boss under a questionable organization when they will be fired without a second thought if their involvement is discovered makes for difficult unionization.

WalMart is a notorious union buster.

For example, they had a national injunction barring representatives of the United Food and Commercial Workers union from entering WalMart (this has apparently since been overturned). In the world of “at-will” employment, I don’t think any worker muttering about unions would be working there for long. Apparently they have even included anti-union videos as part of their training.

I havn’t done the research, but I’m sure it wouldn’t take much investigation to discover that WalMart has fought unions tooth and nail, and a million poor ununionized workers don’t stand much a chance in the face of the largest employer in the United States.

Because when you live in a state where there are no good jobs to be had, a $7 an hour job is better than going on welfare. Especially if you’re one of the 82% of citizens who don’t have a college degree.

My city is getting two Super Wal-Marts next year. We are one of Wal-Mart’s biggest markets despite the relatively small population. I’m glad we’re getting them but fail to see why everyone is so excited about it. A bunch of new employees with no health benefits who STILL qualify for food stamps even though they work full time. YAYYYYYYY!!!

Walmart is good at union-busting because, since Sam Walmart died, the Walmart corporation retained a “scorched earth” law firm that has set records for intransigence in the face of lawsuits. They refuse discovery requests, they pay fines to courts rather than settlements, they deny obvious truths about Walmart–like employment policies for which plaintiffs have written proof. Overall, it’s cheaper for them to be unbelievably difficult to sue than to legitimately fight the lawsuits or to settle them.

Kind of dumb question: How hard would it be for a WAl-Mart to replace a full complement of employees, assuming that everyone at one extra-evil store all struck at once? I don’t think it would be all that hard. It’s not like there are currently a feast of jobs availabe, especially for unskilled workers.

I think unions are inherently evil anyway.

Why should people be able to demand above market rates of compensation by threat of holding a company hostage? If they don’t like the pay, they can go elsewhere.

Before you say “if it weren’t for unions, we’d all be making minimum wage”, I work in a field with no unions, but make appreciably above minimum wage. So why is that? Why don’t the evil capitalists pay me minimum wage only? I also get the benefit of not having to pay union dues to corrupt, lazy union officials.

If the evil capitalists are making so much money, then in theory other firms started by other evil capitalists would start up to exploit the cheap labor. As a result the labor would be bid up to its market rate.

I love how the big 3 were held hostage for so many years by the unions. The unions resisted all attempts at efficiency or flexibility. Now Ford is close to bankruptcy and GM’s market share is shrinking every year. Chrysler would probably be bankrupt if not for Mercedes. The unions decided to milk the big 3 for all they were worth before they went bust, instead of working to make sure they didn’t go bust in the first place.

Or look at how the teacher’s unions stifle all competition while delivering an inferior product every year.

Because that’s how a free market works? It’s basic supply and demand. A group of laborers get together and restrict the supply of labor (themselves) thereby driving up demand. I’d expect to hear a communist call this inherently evil, but you don’t strike me as one of them.


Unions seem outdated and troublesome.

When John Q. Smith is scared to death of getting fired, he doesn’t care whether his (ex-)job was sent to China, or was filled by his neighbor who just got laid off from the factory that actually did move to China. The point is that poor old John Q. will be out of work, so he is afraid to antagonize his boss.

I’ve read that Walmart will proudly fire an employee who removes his uniform and doesn’t serve any customers he sees while walking through the store AFTER he has already clocked out at the end of his shift. With rules like that, who’s got the guts to go on strike?

All interested in this thread should check out Barbara Ehrenrich’s book, “Nickel and Dimed”, where she tries to make ends meet at minimum wage jobs. Turns out it can’t be done.

She worked at a Wal-Mart for a few months. Any whisper of Union activity brought boys from the home office to propagandize against unions to the mostly uneducated workers.

Also, remember that Wal-Mart is one of the biggest employers in the world, and a large number of people tuning in to the TV on any given evening are therefore Wal-Mart employees. Look closely at their commercials. The ones that don’t feature the smilie face busting prices for their customers almost always show actors pretending to be Wal-Mart employees who are giddily grateful to be working at Wal-Mart, because, after all, who doesn’t want to be at Wal-Mart anyway?

It’s advertising for the store, with a little propaganda thrown in at no extra charge. A bargain!

Except for the fact that in contexts like this, they’re the only mechanism that lends any validity to the notion of a free labor market. What I mean by this apparently self contradictory statement is this: A low-level, low-skilled employee has zero leverage, in practical terms. Those defending onerous workplace rules, or low wages, are quick to say that the employee can simply go someplace else. This promotes the fiction that the employee is an equal negotiant in a business transaction of equals. But that is often not the case. The employer is free to fire the worker and the worker is free to leave, but the employer is not going to wonder where next month’s rent is coming from if someone gets fired.

There may be no other place where the employee could go. Employees, especially in retail, seem to be treated like dirt, since the stockholders and customers come first. The individual really can’t go to the president and negotiate better terms, especially if the president is three thousand miles away, but the union leaders can.

Kudos. This is the ‘right to work’ law in its Darwinian nutshell. The company can always go overseas, and the worker can always go to the cardboard box.

Now an possible answer to the latter situation would be that workers must, in this economy, be willing to pack their lives up and relocate anywhere in the country to any job available, a kind of fluid dynamics model of labor. This makes a mockery of freedom to a great extent, however. What if I want to live in, say, Georgia for example, but can find no work to support myself? Have I been denied the right to live there? What if I live there but have no money for moving or job-hunting expenses, a fairly common situation for even the poor that are working?

It is good to keep in mind, also, that not everyone even has the legal opportunity of a collective bargaining situation. For example, there is a union drive going on where I’m working at the moment. But as a temp (seven months & going) who does not work directly for the company but does the exact same job as many full employees, I’m not involved in whatever vote may materialize.

Well, it’s legal for the company to discourage unionization as long as there isn’t actually a union cert election upcoming, in which case there are restrictions on that. But it is an unfair labor practice to fire an employee for discussing unionization. This is true even if the employee is “at will”. If the employee appeals it the NLRB could either reinstate the employee, punish Wal-Mart, or both. That may not be as tough as it sounds, because the labor movement is very fed up with Wal-Mart and they’d love to help an employee put the screws to him. The problem would be exposing the pretense, since clearly Wal-Mart would find some pretextual reason to dismiss the employee.

Well, for the last three years I’ve been operating the teleconference links for the Labor Studies program, so basically I’ve had every class they offer twice. So I can go ahead and confirm it for you, yes they fight unions “tooth and nail”.

BTW, that’s 1.4 million poor nonunionized workers now. Projected to be over 2 million in a few years.

Frankly, I think some of the employees that stick there are brainwashed. That “gimme a W, gimme an A…” chant they do is a real nice job of cult mind control. Maybe that’s why they don’t realize how evil their employer is.

From a long time sufferer of Mall-Wart employment…
I live in a medium sized town, and I can assure you that last week, there was a 5 inch tall stack of applications in the personnel person’s desk. And that’s what she had to look at on that particular day. We’ve since switched to a computer kiosk thingie, so I imagine that there’s even more people applying.
So why don’t Wal-Mart workers rise up and boycott the place? Exactly what the other posters say: If you need a job and you don’t have a college degree, then its better to get paid 6-7 dollars (in LA anyway…) then minimum wage. And if you’re in college (like myself) there are very few jobs that will work with your schedule and give you a decent number of hours. My point is: we’re too busy and too disgruntled to care. Wallyworld treats us so impersonally (like 3 year olds, actually) that there’s no morale. You find yourself just looking out for yourself, and maybe only your friends there. It’s a damn crooked company and its getting crazier every minute.
***Oh, and I’ve been told on numerous ocassions that if I’m heard saying the word “union” I will most likely be fired without much other reason. A few years back, there was a lady from England, I think, and she asked the fitting room attendant “Is it true that you guys can’t join a union?” Then she started talking about something else, but the wal mart drones already heard her and threw her out of the store.
So there. For what its worth, I’m looking for another job at the moment.

I think that therein lies part of the problem. Wal-Mart and other retail chains expect massive turnover. There’s no incentive to treat individual employees well when they know they’ll quickly be replaced.

I used to work for one of Wal-Mart’s competitors. When the giant store opened, I was one of 300 employees hired. When I left five months later, only a handful of the original staff was left. Those that could, quit. Those that stayed bitterly resented the way they were treated. (One employee had to threaten to sue before cashiers were allowed to take their breaks, for example.)

At the job I’m in now, I actually make *less * than I did at that store. However, the money is more than made up for by the respect I get from my employer. At the store, it was abundantly clear that I was instantly replacable, but at my current job, I’m treated as a valued member of the team.

Maybe some, but most people aren’t that stupid. No one in their right minds would lead a cheer for a company where you worked 50 hours a week and still qualified for public assistance. Some motivation comes from stock purchase plan.
There’s a fair amount of Walmart millionaires around here, who started at W-M 20 or more years ago and got stock. Workers (sorry, “associates”) can still buy in, but are unlikely to make a killing the way the old timers did.

My experience has been that Wal-Mart’s lawyers are crap. The company hires smaller, discount law firms to fight their legal battles, and they regularly get their asses kicked in litigation because the cheap lawyers are in over their heads. They do tend to fight their cases to the end, but that’s out of pigheadedness rather than being particularly good at it.

Isn’t that illegal - coercing workers to work ‘off the clock’?

Yes, and they already lost a class-action suit for doing exactly that. So I presume they’ve stopped doing that now, what with collateral estoppel making any subsequent claim an instant victory.