Walmart: A Black Eye On Black Friday

Walmart has long been one of the left’s favorite boogeymen, and no wonder — the company stubbornly and successfully has resisted efforts by labor unions to organize its workforce for years.

Unions are mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore: The retail giant is currently under siege from a labor-driven protest campaign designed to cripple the company on the year’s prime shopping day, Black Friday.

Coalitions of disgruntled Walmart employees who call themselves “OUR Walmart” and “Making Change at Walmart” are organizing 1,000 protest events leading up to the day after Thanksgiving, including strikes and “online actions.” AOL reports:

Making Change at Walmart is backed by the United Food & Commercial Workers, which purports to represent 1.3 million workers in the U.S. and Canada.

Organizers wouldn’t say how many of Walmart’s 1.4 million U.S. employees are expected to take part on Black Friday, but they claim more workers are calling everyday, sharing their plans to strike. But the website for the Corporate Action Network, a networking tool for fighting corporate abuses, lists protests in 19 cities, including Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, San Diego, and Houston, organized by Making Change at Walmart or its allies…The protest actions will range from traditional striking, consumer education, and flash mobs…

So far the campaign has had little discernible impact on Walmart’s operations. The campaign…

…began with a day-long walkout in Southern California, but quickly rippled out to 28 Walmart stores in 12 different cities. Workers at contracted Walmart warehouses in Southern California went on strike yesterday, and this morning, 30 associates from six Walmart stores in Seattle walked out…

But Walmart is not taking the first strike in its 50-year history laying down. It has filed  a charge with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming the picketing campaign violates federal labor law and asking a judge to intervene.  The Nation reports:

Walmart’s charge…sets two processes in motion. The first, which could take months, is the full investigation and resolution of the allegation, beginning with fact-finding by board agents based in Walmart’s backyard (NLRB Region 26, which covers Arkansas and three other states). The second, which could advance as soon as this week, is the decision whether to grant an injunction restricting strikes against Walmart while the investigation proceeds. Experts say NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon would have final say over whether the Board seeks the injunction; if it does, a district court judge will decide whether to grant it.

Activists claim the strike is needed to improve working conditions, wages and benefits for Walmart employees. As one Seattle protester put it:

[Walmart is] a successful company that profits $16 billion a year, that can afford to pay its executives $10 million, while I can’t afford to support my family on $16,000 a year.

How many Walmart employees agree with this sentiment — and how many of those actually choose to participate in the strike — remains to be seen. What is certain is no one forces anyone to work or shop at Walmart. That millions choose to do one or both (Walmart is the largest private employer in the country with 1.4 million workers) in spite of the alleged poor treatment of its workforce frustrates labor leaders to no end.

Big Labor has chosen an odd moment to take a stand against Walmart, as the movement is still reeling from crushing defeats in Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere this past year. Union officials may wish they had bided their time — another defeat at the hands of Sam Walton’s juggernaut will only further erode the credibility and resources of these bosses.