Profile: The Union Behind Black Friday Walmart Protests

As the union-backed groups OUR Walmart and Making a Change at Walmart gear up to make a statement this Black Friday, the company took action — and filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

The union creating the stir is the United Food and Commercial Workers, which defines it self as “America’s neighborhood union – standing together to improve the lives and livelihoods of workers, families, and communities.” UFCW is encouraging Walmart workers to walk off the job on Black Friday — perhaps the busiest shopping day of the year — to picket for better wages, hours, and health benefits.

The union, started in 1979, claims 1.3 million members in 400 locals throughout the United States and Canada. Most work in the grocery, retail, meat packing, and food processing industries, and the union seeks to grow by becoming the No.1 bargaining agent for Walmart’s 1.4 million employees.

“The more than 1 million members of the UFCW across America know the need for real change at Walmart,” said Joe Hansen, international president of the UFCW. “We’re  incredibly proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these courageous associates who are taking action to demand that Walmart workers can, and should, be able to speak out for real change without fear of retaliation.”

Although OUR Walmart was a subsidiary of the UFCW in 2011, OUR Walmart Director, Dan Shlademan, said in recent days his group is not affiliated with the union. Walmart spokesman Steve Restivo disagrees. “Just to be clear, OUR Walmart is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the UFCW,” he said.

Regardless of the truth on this question, UFCW’s larger motives are made clear on its website:

UFCW members know all too well that non-union retail and grocery stores -like Walmart, Target, and Whole Foods- are often in direct competition with grocery and department stores where UFCW members work. As anti-worker chains like Walmart continue to grow and to bring down industry standards, UFCW members will have to fight harder and harder at the bargaining table to maintain good wages and benefits.

Hansen, the UFCW president, has been active in the global labor movement since 1994 and has been appointed by President Obama to serve on the United States Trade Representatives Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and to the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.