The group that has led labor-related protests at Wal-Mart stores, Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), is intimately tied to the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), a labor union that has tried to organize workers at Wal-Mart to little success for years. OUR Walmart is simply the latest in a series of anti-Wal-Mart campaigns tied to UFCW that date back into the early 1990s if not before.
The first mention of OUR Walmart by the news media was a June 2011 article by New York Times labor correspondent Steven Greenhouse promoting the group’s debut. Probably not coincidentally, the last activity of the previous UFCW-backed protest front against Wal-Mart (Wake Up Walmart) was in late 2010.
OUR Walmart and the Department of Labor
According to the UFCW’s federal fiscal filings with the Department of Labor (Form LM-2) for 2011, OUR Walmart is a subsidiary of UFCW. The relevant disclosure reads:
The UFCW has a subsidiary organization maintained in Washington DC named the Organization United For Respect at Walmart whose purpose as stated in the by-laws will be the betterment of the conditions of the current and former associates at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., within the meaning of Section 501(c)(5) of the Internal Revenue Code, and to make Wal-Mart a better corporate citizen. The financial transactions are included in the 12/31/11 filing of this LM2.
The same disclosure was made on the 2012 Form LM-2. According to Labor Department regulations, a “subsidiary organization” is:
Any separate organization of which the ownership is wholly vested in the reporting labor organization or its officers or its membership, which is governed or controlled by the officers, employees, or members of the reporting labor organization, and which is wholly financed by the reporting labor organization
Presuming OUR Walmart retains “subsidiary organization” status, the federal rules demonstrate that either all of OUR Walmart’s funding comes from the UFCW or that the initial financing came from UFCW. In either case, OUR Walmart is or was governed by the UFCW or its officials.
Additionally, OUR Walmart has partnered with a “separate” UFCW project, Making Change at Walmart (MCW). Many protest materials are co-branded with the OUR Walmart and MCW emblems, and OUR Walmart and MCW both engaged in protests at the 2013 Wal-Mart annual general meeting. In response to intimidatory picketing, Wal-Mart filed for restraining orders against the UFCW and OUR Walmart in Florida and Arkansas state courts. An order was granted by an Arkansas judge, and a case is pending before a Florida state court.
OUR Walmart has made efforts to obscure the links between itself and UFCW. In the run-up to the November 2012 demonstrations, The Wall Street Journal reported that “OUR Walmart […] said it is no longer a subsidiary of the UFCW.” A representative told the Journal: “OUR Walmart is an independent organization.” The UFCW’s LM-2, signed under penalty of perjury, indicates that is not the case under Department of Labor rules.
OUR Walmart and the National Labor Relations Board
OUR Walmart and the UFCW have run into issues with a National Labor Relations Act rule that limits “representational pickets” — picketing for the purposes of qualifying as a labor union — to thirty days unless a petition for representation is filed. When OUR Walmart threatened protests before Black Friday in 2012, Wal-Mart petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (which enforces the Act) to enjoin OUR Walmart and UFCW protests under this rule.
In response, the UFCW sent a letter to then-Acting General Counsel (essentially, chief prosecutor) of the NLRB Lafe Solomon disavowing the intent to organize Wal-Mart employees at this time. OUR Walmart and MCW websites and materials now convey the following disclaimer, pursuant to UFCW’s deal with Solomon:
Legal Disclaimer: UFCW and OUR Walmart have the purpose of helping Wal-Mart employees as individuals or groups in their dealings with Wal-Mart over labor rights and standards and their efforts to have Wal-Mart publically commit to adhering to labor rights and standards. UFCW and OUR Walmart have no intent to have Walmart recognize or bargain with UFCW or OUR Walmart as the representative of Walmart employees.
Prior to Wal-Mart’s complaint and UFCW’s settlement, the Making Change at Walmart website bore a “United Demands” statement that UFCW admitted endorsed a representational objective. UFCW removed the statement to avoid NLRB sanctions.
In large part because of this deal, the NLRB has not found OUR Walmart to qualify as a labor union and has not ruled the UFCW-led protests representational pickets. Curiously, legal filings by OUR Walmart and UFCW attorneys in state courts after the NLRB agreement was made refer to a potential representational objective remaining, likely to ensure OUR Walmart retains property access rights under federal labor laws exclusive to unions. In response to a civil trespassing charge in California, OUR Walmart’s and the UFCW’s attorneys admitted:
OUR Walmart is a labor organization but only insofar as it seeks to “deal with” Walmart within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act and has received assistance from the UFCW.
It seems like OUR Walmart wants the privileges of a union without the rules and responsibilities. In that, it’s little different from its parent organization.