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In what is becoming something of a tradition, labor activists plan to launch yet another “day of action” against Walmart in advance of its annual meeting of shareholders. Organizers claim that the protests will include strikes by Walmart associates in 20 cities nationwide as well as picketing outside the company’s headquarters in Arkansas.
The planned protests are simply the latest milestone in an ongoing pressure campaign against the world’s largest retailer, which has long been the object of labor’s ire. As with previous protests, this week’s are being led by a group called OUR Walmart, which claims to be a movement “of, by, and for current and former Walmart Associates.” In reality, OUR Walmart is nothing more than a front group for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which has tried, and failed, to unionize Walmart employees for more than a decade.
As this blog has reported repeatedly (see here, here, here, and here), worker centers like OUR Walmart have become the latest tool in labor’s arsenal as unions seek to reverse their six-decade decline in membership. In fact, in 2013 alone, unions poured more than $30 million into these groups.
By claiming not to be formal labor organizations, worker centers can circumvent federal labor laws that require transparency and place restrictions on the types of activities, such as strikes, that unions may utilize. Moreover, by portraying themselves as charitable groups, worker centers cloak themselves as sympathetic community organizations rather than as the fronts for labor unions they truly are.
To bolster this image, worker centers tend to disavow any intention to actually unionize employees. But this claim doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. OUR Walmart, for example, far from being an altruistic independent group, is actually listed by the UFCW as a “subsidiary organization” on its financial disclosure form filed with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
OUR Walmart’s protests typically involve plenty of street theater and made-for-media moments, but not much else. No more than a handful of actual Walmart employees seem interested in joining these faux protests, or becoming a member of the union that sponsors them. In fact, in 2013, it was revealed that OUR Walmart actually offered $50 gift cards to entice employees to go on strike, although few seemed to do so. This generous offer was probably made to improve upon the dismal results of 2012, when just 50 Walmart employees nationwide (out of some 1.4 million employees) went on strike on Black Friday.
These overhyped, yet underperforming protests are becoming something of an embarrassment for OUR Walmart and its union financiers. With so little interest from actual Walmart employees, one wonders how much more money the unions will squander on these “days of action.”