Wednesday, December 30, 2009

CHINAMART-Where Are The Unions?

Madison Capital Times August, 2001 Title: Wal-Mart Ravages Workers’ Rights By John Nichols Reprinted In Asheville Global Report 9/6/01
Faculty evaluator: Phil McGough Student researcher: Kathy Jensen

Wal-Mart has been pouring a considerable amount of money into a political campaign supporting a law that will reduce the wages and benefits for workers in Oklahoma. Oklahomans voted on the “right to work” law in September of 2001. The law bans labor contracts that require workers to pay union dues or representation fees. The law also makes it difficult for unions to negotiate solid contracts. Wal-Mart hopes to use Oklahoma as a model for a renewed campaign to reduce the wages and benefits for workers nation wide.
This campaign will inevitably undermine the ability of unions to effectively organize. The right to work law has union members angered and concerned, as expressed by a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers “Union members across the country should take note of Wal-Mart’s support of measures like ‘right to work’ before they spend any of their union wages at Wal-Mart stores.” Right to work laws were developed in the 1940s by segregationists to keep African-Americans, Latinos, and white workers in the South and Southwest from unionizing. Right to work laws were among the vile legacies of an era when conservatives worked at the state and national level to erect legal barriers to racial progress. Only two states have passed right to work laws since the civil rights era.
In the 21 States with right to work laws, the medium household income is $4,882 less than states where workers are free to organize effective unions. These states have higher poverty rates and less health insurance coverage than states without right to work laws.
Oklahoma rejected a right to work law in 1964, when Martin Luther King Jr. came to campaign against the proposal. This time around however powerful right-wing interests combined with Wal-Mart to push the initiative. The Daily Oklahoman contributed advertising space and Governor Frank Keating and U.S. Senator Don Nickles campaigned in support of passage.
Nichols writes, “In a sense, it is a good investment for Wal-Mart, which often has a hard time finding workers willing to accept low wages paid at it stores. If the Oklahoma campaign is a success, right-to-work advocates hope to use it as a model for passing similar initiatives in Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Montana, New Hampshire and New Mexico.”
UPDATE: On September 25 the voters of Oklahoma passed the right-to-work law by a 54% margin. Wal-Mart contributed $250,000 to the campaign. AFL-CIO had filed legal challenges to the law.

With revenues of roughly $400 billion and 1.4 million workers at more than 4,000 stores in the United States alone, Wal-Mart is the largest company in the world.
Yet for the last five years, the United Food and Commercial Workers — the largest union in the country representing retail workers — has largely eschewed organizing drives aimed at Wal-Mart workers.
After years of unsuccessfully seeking a toehold within the retail chain, the union simply decided that under current labor laws trying to organize workers in the face of fierce corporate resistance was futile.
“Workers at Wal-Mart have wanted to organize for a long, long time and have made efforts in various places,” says Doug Mork, organizing director for UFCW Local 789. “But there just hasn’t been a real possibility. If their employers have been committed enough and capitalized enough to fight them to the mat on it, workers simply haven’t had the opportunity to organize under existing labor law.”
But the UFCW now vows that its capitulation to Wal-Mart is over. The union has started organizing campaigns in 17 states, including Minnesota, targeting more than 100 stores. The impetus for the organizing drive: the new administration in the White House and the possibility of passing the Employee Free Choice Act. Under the proposed legislation, workers would join a union after more than half of the workers sign a card indicating support. Under present law, an election must be held to determine whether a majority of workers are in favor of joining the union.
President Obama has consistently voiced support for the Employee Free Choice Act. UFCW organizers are utilizing cards with a picture of the popular president to entice workers to sign off on unionization. The cards include a 2007 quote from Obama specifically calling out Wal-Mart. “I don’t mind standing up for workers and letting Wal-Mart know they need to pay a decent wage and let folks organize,” he said at the time.
But the proposed legislation has floundered as the economy has tanked. President Obama has not made it a top legislative priority, and some former supporters, including Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) and Arlen Specter (D-Penn.), have turned against it.
UFCW’s Wal-Mart campaign is part of an effort by organized labor to build support for the Employee Free Choice Act and apply pressure to Congress.
“Every union has been lifting up clear examples of where current law has not worked well,” says Mork. “Wal-Mart is clearly one of the examples for the UFCW. There’s adequate evidence that all sorts of people can look and say, ‘Yes, workers at Wal-mart wanted to organize.’ There’s been clear energy and interest in the past, and they’ve been able to completely shut it down.”
In the Twin Cities, UFCW has had discussions with workers at nine stores, according to Mork. But it’s difficult to say whether the union is gaining significant traction. Mork is reluctant to specify exactly how many workers have so far signed cards indicating support for joining the union.
“I don’t want to give Wal-Mart any information that they don’t have in terms of what’s happening here,” he says. “We’re certainly not a majority anywhere yet. But we’ve got stores where significant numbers of folks have signed.”
Wal-Mart seems unfazed by the campaign. “We have noticed that the UFCW has been working harder in its attempt to get Wal-Mart associates to sign union cards,” says Daphne Moore, a spokesperson for the company. “We don’t think our associates have any reason to be more interested than before.”
However, the retailer is notorious for the lengths it will go to keep organized labor out of its stores. When meat cutters at a Texas store voted to unionize a decade ago, the company responded by eliminating meat cutters from 180 stores in six states. After workers at a Wal-Mart in Canada voted to join a union in 2004, the company shuttered the store.
But less dramatic tactics are the backbone of Wal-Mart’s crusade to keep unions out of its stores, as documented in a 2007 report by Human Rights Watch. Managers are given extensive training in union prevention techniques. New workers are required to watch anti-union videos. There is a union hotline that managers are directed to call at the first hint of organizing so that advice can be dispensed directly from the corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Nelson Lichtenstein, author of the forthcoming book The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business, says such tactics have now become standard for national retail chains. “It’s no longer extraordinary,” says Lichtenstein, who teaches labor history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “Now everyone does it. Target does exactly the same thing.”
While these tactics have undoubtedly played a major role in keeping organized labor out of Wal-Mart stores, some observers also argue that unions haven’t made a persuasive case to workers.
“Why is it that workers that everybody acknowledges are not really that well paid are also not willing to vote to put a union in place at Wal-Mart?” asks Charles Fishman, author of the The Wal-Mart Effect. “That’s the $12-an-hour question. … What it says is people don’t think the union has more to offer them than Wal-Mart.”
Fishman points out that if every Wal-Mart worker received a $2 an hour raise, it would eat up all of the company’s $12 billion in profits.
“If Wal-Mart were to be unionized, the stores might look the same,” he says. “The prices wouldn’t be the same, and the way the place operated wouldn’t be the same. Because there’s no room in there to be quote-unquote more generous to people on benefits or pay or staffing without changing the operation.”
After years of unsuccessful battles with Wal-Mart, the UFCW has been content in recent years to concentrate on bloodying the company’s image. The main vehicle for this effort has been the “Wake-Up Wal-Mart” marketing campaign. Through a Web site, protests and other communications tools, the UFCW has tarred Wal-Mart as a corporate behemoth that treats its workers like dirt and routinely violates labor laws.
There is some evidence that the campaign has been successful in affecting consumer behavior and instigating changes in Wal-Mart’s personnel policies. For example, the company has twice in recent years altered its health-insurance policies to make them somewhat more affordable for workers. And in December it settled 63 lawsuits alleging that Wal-Mart failed to pay employees their rightful wages for $352 million.
“They’ve had a positive impact, particularly on health insurance and particularly on the notion that somebody’s watching Wal-Mart,” says Fishman, about the “Wake Up” campaign. “We all know how we do the dishes, clean the kitchen, fold the laundry, rake the leaves if someone’s standing there with their arms crossed watching us.”
Now the UFCW hopes to capitalize on that groundwork by organizing workers.
Peter Rachleff, a labor historian at Macalester College, believes the time is ripe for the UFCW to take another run at Wal-Mart.
“Their anticipation of EFCA getting passed and their estimation of a changed political and economic climate all make this a time — not necessarilly a good time or an easy time — but a necessary time to shift their strategy and try to organize Wal-Mart,” he says.
But that doesn’t mean he believes they’ll be successful. “There‘s a lot at stake,” he says. “I’m not optimistic.”
Lichtenstein is even more blunt in assessing the UFCW‘s chances. “They know it will fail,” he says. “It’s designed to fail.”
But even failure can have an upside. “Demonstrating that failure shows we need something new,” Liechtenstein says. “We need a new law.”
More villain than victim
By Joe Hansen
As America's largest company, with more than $285 billion in sales and more than $10 billion in profits, Wal-Mart has a responsibility to set the standard for customers, workers, families and communities. America's largest employer — with nearly 1.3 million workers — must reflect America's values.
Wal-Mart is not the victim of globalization, lower wages and lack of health insurance. More accurately, Wal-Mart's business practices created many of these problems in America today. Look at the record.
A company that reflects America's values doesn't pay below poverty-level wages to its workers. At 34 hours per week (full-time at Wal-Mart), the average Wal-Mart associate makes $17,114 per year, well below the poverty level for a family of four.
A company that reflects America's values doesn't have 660,000 of its employees without company-provided health insurance, forcing workers to seek taxpayer-funded public assistance. In fact, in 11 of the 12 states that have disclosed employers who have employees on Medicaid, Wal-Mart tops the list. In Georgia, for example, a state survey found more than 10,000 Wal-Mart employees on Medicaid — 14 times the next highest employer.
A company that reflects America's values doesn't ask taxpayers to subsidize its $10 billion in profits. A U.S. congressional study found that Wal-Mart costs you, the American taxpayer, up to $2.5 billion in public assistance. One newspaper editorial titled it, "Wal-Mart Welfare."
A company that reflects America's values doesn't put profits before its people, morality and the law. In the past few months, Wal-Mart agreed to pay a record fine for exploiting illegal immigrants and settled extensive child labor violations. It still faces the largest gender discrimination lawsuit, 1.6 million women, in U.S. history for unfair pay and unequal promotion.
Wal-Mart is not creating jobs in our communities. Wal-Mart's business practices simply exchange decent jobs with health benefits for lower-paying jobs and taxpayer-subsidized health care. The truth is Wal-Mart is forcing good-paying American jobs overseas. Wal-Mart is creating an America of lower wages, no health care and lack of retirement security.
We think it's time for Wal-Mart to wake up.
Joe Hansen is president of United Food and Commercial Workers.Posted 4/17/2005 9:39 PM

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