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Is Wal-Mart Purging Activists Who Went On Strike?

In a coordinated purge, Walmart has lashed out against workers who walked out in early June.

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“I got tired of being scared,” Bowers said. “And the more I spoke up, the more they had me in the office.”

Bowers thought the firings would affect his coworkers in two ways: “It’ll rev it up a little more. Half will be more mad, and half will be more fearful,” he said. Coworkers were angry when he was fired. “They know how hard I work and how long I’ve been there.”

Since this new wave of retaliations, OUR Walmart has been scheduling protests targeting key Walmart board members. Five were arrested June 24 outside Yahoo’s annual shareholder meeting in Sunnyvale, California, targeting Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer since she is also a Walmart board member.

The retaliatory firings come as strikes by non-union fast food workers continue to spread across the country. This week Kansas City and Flint join five other cities in coordinated one-day strikes for $15 an hour, a union, and an end to retaliation. Some fast food workers have also been fired for organizing.

Labor Board Logjam

Fired workers said they were not allowed to bring a co-worker or advocate with them to the meeting where they were fired. In most cases, two assistant managers behind a closed door told the worker they couldn’t leave until they signed something.

Brown said her chosen advocate, a co-worker who was off that day, was ejected by Walmart management. When Brown tried to let her back in the room, there was a tense standoff.

According to recent labor board interpretations, workers without a union don’t have a right to have an advocate with them in disciplinary meetings with management, but the board has flip-flopped on this several times.

The firings are almost certainly illegal retaliation under the National Labor Relations Act, but workers may have to wait to see justice carried out. The labor board has a slow process even in good times, but in recent years it has been declawed by Congressional Republicans—who have obstructed the appointment of board members, leaving the board without a quorum to conduct business.

When President Obama appointed additional members while the Senate was out of town, companies affected by the board’s decisions sued, charging that the appointments weren’t valid because they weren’t during a real “recess.”

Now lower courts have produced conflicting decisions on whether any board decisions for the last year are valid. As a result, the whole mess is headed for the Supreme Court.

However, the logjam may clear just in time for the Walmart workers. Democrats have been threatening to change Senate rules so that a simple majority vote (rather than 60 percent) is needed to fill vacancies in the administration. A compromise was reached in which the labor board appointees will be voted in all as one block. The new labor secretary was also confirmed as part of the deal.

A muscular labor board could order Walmart to stop the retaliation, and if the egregious conduct continued, order it to allow employees to organize.


Jenny Brown is a staff writer for Labor Notes.

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