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Unions and Walmart: Same story, different year

It had been awful quiet on the organized labor front for a while, so news this week of the creation of a new union-backed anti-Walmart group serves as a reminder that unions are the equivalent of a bad case of herpes to Walmart. The discomfort and visible symptoms associated with their organizing activities occasionally subside, but there is no cure and eventually the company experiences another outbreak.

That’s what happened this week with several high profile media reports detailing the creation of a group called “OUR Walmart,” Organization United for Respect at Walmart. The group purports to be a nonunion organization and intends to press for better pay, benefits and most of all, more respect at work. That is how the New York Times characterized the entity in a story that appeared on Wednesday. The following day, workers donned bright yellow shirts and marched on the company’s home office where they were met in the parking lot by Walmart labor relations and media relations executives, according to photos posted on the group’s website, Ourwalmart.org.

Although the site depicts the organization as a grass-roots effort by Wal-Mart workers and there is no mention of union involvement, the Times reported that, “the United Food and Commercial Workers has provided a sizable sum — the union will not say how much — to help the group get started. The union has also paid hundreds of its members to go door to door to urge Wal-Mart workers to join the group.”

The site does indicate the group is membership based with a monthly membership fee of $5 or annual fee of $60.

Other revelations provided by the Times include the involvement of ASGK Public Strategies, a consulting firm long associated with David Axelrod, President Obama's top political strategist. In addition, the past few weeks the group has organized gatherings of 10 to 80 workers in Dallas, Seattle, Los Angeles and other cities, meeting inside churches, fast-food restaurants and employees' homes, where the workers chewed over how they would like to improve Wal-Mart. One big concern, they said, was low wages, according to the Times.

The piece went on to quote several workers who didn’t think they were making enough money, including a four year veteran who earns $11.40 an hour on an overnight stocking crew in Lancaster, Calif., and an employee in the shoe department of a Dallas store who said she earns $8.90 an hour after three years.

The Wall Street Journal picked up on the story Thursday morning with an article detailing the planned march on Walmart’s home office. The Journal and the Times both quoted Walmart spokesman David Tovar dismissing the organization as the latest union attempt to attract media attention to further its political agenda. The strategy appears to have worked.