Opinion

Who Really Benefits From The Walmart Protests?

Rian Wathen Former Union Organizer

The UFCW has been consistently attempting to unionize Walmart workers for over a decade. In 2002, as Organizing Director for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 700, I helped lead the first National Day of Action against the retailer. At that time, the UFCW was very upfront about their goal of organizing Walmart employees, and we were regularly persuading employees to sign union cards.

The National Labor Relations Act protects all private sector employees’ right to form a union without interference and collecting signatures on union authorization cards is the first step of the process. When at least 30 percent of workers in a workplace sign cards indicating that they wish to be represented by a union, the National Labor Relations Board will conduct a secret ballot election. If Walmart workers wish to join the UFCW then they have thelegal right to do so.

Yet, despite spending millions of dollars since the early 2000s, the UFCW has apparently failed to convince just 30 percent of the workers to sign cards at any one location out of nearly 5,000 Walmart stores. Walmart workers have continually rejected the UFCW. It is clear, they’re not interested in buying what the UFCW is selling, and the UFCW knows this. However, even with declining membership numbers, the UFCW believes they don’t need to improve or change their product, but rather just slap on a new coat of paint.

Wake Up Walmart, Change at Walmart, and now OUR Walmart are just some of the pseudonyms that the UFCW has chosen to hide behind. By misrepresenting themselves through these front groups, the UFCW is all but admitting failure, and desperately attempting to deceive the public and Walmart employees.

The OUR Walmart website maintains the following disclaimer: “UFCW and OUR Walmart have no intent to have Walmart recognize or bargain with UFCW or OUR Walmart as the representative of Walmart employees.” As a former UFCW Organizing Director, who attended many meetings and conference calls to discuss these “alternative” organizing programs, I appreciate the laughable absurdity of that statement. While the disclaimer is untrue, it is also crucial to OUR Walmart’s continued existence. It allows the union “subsidiary” to potentially circumvent labor law and do things that the UFCW cannot, like engage in intermittent strikes and picketing.

The bottom line is that when the clever slogans and colorful logos are peeled back it exposes the true motivation of this campaign: UFCW’s endless attempt to deduct union dues from the paychecks of over 1.4 million Walmart workers.

I am not a big fan of Walmart, but this isn’t about Walmart. It’s about the UFCW not being honest. Most of the participants at this year’s Black Friday “protests” were paid, professional union staff, and the “protest” was really about one thing, increasing their paychecks by securing more union dues.

Rian Wathen is a former 15 year UFCW staff representative and officer.  He now works as a labor relations consultant.