Saturday, February 2, 2013

Labor Union to Ease Walmart Picketing

 The nation’s largest union of retail and grocery workers has formally pledged not to try to unionize Walmart workers, even though it helped coordinate picketing, protests and scattered strikes about wages and working conditions at the retailer last fall.

The union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, made the pledge this week to avert likely charges from regulators that it engaged in weeks of illegal picketing at Walmart stores last fall.
The National Labor Relations Board said Thursday that it would hold in abeyance any charges against the union and its affiliate, OUR Walmart, for six months to make sure they fulfilled their commitments.
Wal-Mart Stores had asked the labor board to determine if the union and OUR Walmart had violated a provision of federal law that prohibits worker groups from engaging in more than 30 days of picketing that is aimed at gaining union recognition.

Labor board officials had been considering whether to bring such charges against the union and OUR Walmart, a group of several thousand Walmart employees closely affiliated with the union. But on Tuesday, the union, in an apparent effort to forestall any charges, sent the N.L.R.B. a letter saying that OUR Walmart “has no intent to have Wal-Mart recognize or bargain with it as the representative of Wal-Mart employees.”
The union even told the labor board that both it and OUR Walmart would not picket for at least 60 days at Walmart stores, “including confrontational conduct that is the functional equivalent of picketing.”
Wal-Mart Stores applauded Thursday’s developments.
“Today, the National Labor Relations Board and the U.F.C.W. reached a settlement agreement that will bring the union’s unlawful tactics and disruptions toward Wal-Mart, our associates and our customers to an end,” said David Tovar, a company spokesman. “Our associates can now move forward knowing that the U.F.C.W. must stop its illegal and disruptive activities.”
As OUR Walmart and the union coordinated on-and-off demonstrations last October and November at Walmart stores around the country, culminating in a nationwide protest on Black Friday, Wal-Mart Stores asserted that the protests were clear violations of the law barring picketing for more than 30 days when a union is seeking recognition.
At the time, some OUR Walmart members insisted that the picketing was aimed merely at seeking higher wages and ending what they said was retaliation against employees who spoke out in favor of better wages and working conditions.
But other OUR Walmart members and union officials said their long-term goal was very much to unionize store workers. Such statements seemed to buttress the company’s claims that the demonstrations were indeed illegally protracted picketing that aimed to win union recognition.
In announcing that it would not, at least for now, bring charges against the union, the labor board said that the U.F.C.W. had disavowed any objective of seeking union recognition for Walmart workers and had promised to publicly state that commitment on its Web site and that of OUR Walmart and in mailings to the thousands of its members nationwide.
The labor board also noted another union concession — that if one of its regional directors brings charges against the union for violating the provision against illegal picketing, the union will not contest any N.L.R.B. effort to obtain a temporary injunction barring picketing.
Notwithstanding their promise not to seek to unionize Walmart workers and not to picket stores for at least 60 days, the union and OUR Walmart claimed victory.
The groups said they would still be able to picket after 60 days elapsed to call for improved wages and benefits.
In a statement, OUR Walmart said it “will continue to inform its members and supporters that the organization’s purpose is to help Wal-Mart employees as individuals or groups in their dealings with Wal-Mart over labor rights and standards.”
One official with the group said the labor board’s memo would in no way disrupt its plans to hold protests, strikes and rallies over the next 60 days and beyond, although protesters would be mindful not to walk in circles in front of Walmart stores.
In a statement, the union said, “Wal-Mart workers and their supporters will continue their call for change at Wal-Mart and an end to its attempts to silence workers who speak out for better jobs."
A union spokeswoman said it might someday seek to unionize the stores, but would do so while observing the law that bars picketing for more than 30 days.
Labor board officials said that the complaint that Wal-Mart Stores had filed against union would be “dismissed in six months as long as the union complies with the commitments it has made.”

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