Strikes at Walmart Stores, Warehouses Spread to 12 States: Is the Retail Giant in Trouble?
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NERMEEN SHAIKH: Josh Eidelson, the Huffington Post reported yesterday that Wal-Mart’s VP of communications, whose name is David Tovar, said that those participating in the strike—although he didn’t call it a strike—aren’t, quote, "representative of our entire associate base."
"We do surveys and our associate satisfaction scores have been improving over the past couple years, which runs counter to what a few workers who show up at events that the unions put them up to would say."
He went on to say, quote, "We have an open-door policy. If you have any kind of issue you should bring it forward to your manager and if it isn’t resolved to your satisfaction you can go to the next level of management."
He then accused the United Food and Commercial Workers Union of engaging in these kinds of, quote, "publicity stunts" before. Can you comment on that?
JOSH EIDELSON: Sure. So that’s similar to the reaction that I’ve gotten in my reporting for Salon from Wal-Mart spokespeople. It is true that the workers who’ve gone on strike are a very small fraction, about one in 10,000 of Wal-Mart’s total workforce. But they’ve taken a very dramatic action, and they’ve done it based on assertions, based on frustrations, that clearly are shared by a larger group of workers. And neither what a particular spokesperson nor a particular survey says can speak to what the depth of frustration is.
Now, you’ll hear different things from different workers, but I, for example, talked to someone who makes less than $10 an hour, talked about how the workers who get paid one week have to then lend money to the workers who won’t get paid until the next week, because people don’t afford lunch. When—as The Nation reported this week, as Bryce Covert noted, the independent estimates that have been done are that Wal-Mart workers make less than Wal-Mart says they do. Even Wal-Mart claims that they make less than $13 an hour.
And so, the question of labor involvement, it should be clear that the organization in play here, OUR Walmart, is closely tied to the United Food and Commercial Workers. It is no secret that labor has long struggled against Wal-Mart, because Wal-Mart is one of the world’s largest employers, the largest private-sector employer. It drives down standards. It’s aggressively fought unionization. And we’re at a moment when—it used to be in U.S. history that unionized companies successfully pushed up the standards in industries even for non-union workers. Right now in this industry, we see that standards, even for union workers, have been driven down by Wal-Mart. And so, it is an existential threat to the labor movement. And what we’ve seen in these strikes is a greater level of success and a greater level of risk taken by workers in order to fight Wal-Mart than we’ve seen over the past decades.
AMY GOODMAN: Josh, I wanted to ask you about overall union organizing and unions coming in, in the past, how Wal-Mart has defeated those union efforts, and what’s happening—and not only in the United States, in Canada, as well, willing to entirely close a plant rather than have a union organize there.
JOSH EIDELSON: Yes. Well, perhaps the most dramatic example was about six years ago, when Wal-Mart shut down a store in Canada after the workers won a union election. And that’s part of why we’re not going to see unionization, if it comes to Wal-Mart. We’re not going to see it in the United States one store at a time. The only way that it would happen would be to win, through a comprehensive campaign, an agreement where the company backed down from anti-union campaigning.