OUR Walmart is a worker center founded by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), and is identified as an integral part of UFCW International headquarters in that union’s 2012 Labor Department filings. The UFCW has attempted to organize Wal-Mart locations in the past, but has had almost no success.
Enter OUR Walmart, a campaign of strategic wildcat walkouts and press stunts to pressure Wal-Mart and its employees into unionizing. Although OUR Walmart’s stated aim is to protest supposed unfair labor practices, the group’s union ties indicate that its real aim is likely to unionize Wal-Mart associates. OUR Walmart publicly denies affiliation with UFCW and a union representational objective, but there is considerable evidence that those assertions are or will ultimately prove untrue. Additionally, OUR Walmart’s claim of widespread active worker discontent is dubious, and the organization’s demonstrations appear strongly to be “Astroturf” — fake grassroots.
OUR Walmart Is Related to UFCW
The first mention of OUR Walmart by major 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 UFCW claim that the two groups are distinct. A disclaimer on OUR Walmart’s website states that OUR Walmart is “an independent, not-for-profit organization for hourly Associates.” A Washington state UFCW local’s communications director told local media that OUR Walmart “is an independent organization created to change Walmart.”
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
Additionally, UFCW local unions provide significant support to the OUR Walmart campaign. Reports indicate that OUR Walmart has recruited Wal-Mart employee supporters from previous UFCW campaigns such as Wake Up Walmart. Additionally, the UFCW recruited a high-powered liberal political consultancy formerly headed by senior Obama 2008 campaign adviser David Axelrod to run the OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart (openly in-house UFCW) campaigns.
Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, OUR Walmart and UFCW still maintain publicly that the former is an independent group. In the run-up to the November 2012 demonstrations — after the disclosure on the UFCW’s 2011 federal filing was public — 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 2012 disclosure on UFCW’s LM-2 concerning OUR Walmart did not change from 2011 except for dates.
OUR Walmart Admits It Is a Labor Organization
The loophole that labor unions seek to exploit in their ongoing campaigns to organize new industries with worker centers ultimately boils down to two words: “dealing with.” The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) defines a labor organization — a union — as:
Any organization of any kind, or any agency or employee representation committee or plan, in which employees participate and which exists for the purpose, in whole or in part, of dealing with employers concerning grievances, labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, or conditions of work.
If a worker center seeks to “deal with” employers, then it’s a union, and it’s subject to labor unions’ regulations limiting organizational picketing to 30 days. If it doesn’t seek to “deal with,” then it is not a union, and the thirty-day limit on picketing before submitting a representation petition does not apply. The UFCW and OUR Walmart (through UFCW, naturally) made a statement to the National Labor Relations Board disavowing intent to organize Wal-Mart workers.
However, attorneys for UFCW and OUR Walmart said something different to the California Superior Court for Los Angeles County. Labor unions have certain rights under the National Labor Relations Act and California state law to access an employer’s property that general public agitators do not have. When Wal-Mart sued OUR Walmart for trespassing in its stores, OUR Walmart took what appears to be the view that it is a labor union and does have those labor union rights. OUR Walmart’s attorneys stipulated:
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.
OUR Walmart and UFCW deny present intentions to “deal with” Wal-Mart, but there is evidence that they have intentions to do so at some point. In addition to UFCW’s longstanding record of attempts to organize the retailer, before UFCW and OUR Walmart cut a deal with the National Labor Relations Board requiring they issue a disavowal of a representational objective, the UFCW’s Making Change at Walmart partner campaign’s website bore a “United Demands” statement that UFCW acknowledged endorsed a representational objective. UFCW removed the statement to avoid NLRB sanctions.
OUR Walmart Protests Involve Very Few Workers
OUR Walmart is most notable for staging annual protests on “Black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving that is traditionally America’s busiest shopping day), although all available evidence suggests most of the agitators are not striking employees. Wal-Mart officials claim that as few as 50 actual employees missed shifts due to labor actions in 2012, while news reports suggested that at most a handful of the OUR Walmart protesters were actually striking employees.
Reports on the ground indicated that many OUR Walmart protesters were in fact left-wing agitators. An Alabama protest was attended by no employees, but it did attract ten members of the Mobile Socialist Alternative organization. Other news outlets reported that other 2012 “Black Friday” protests also had no actual Wal-Mart employee participants. Reports from other cities including Chicago and Sacramento, California indicated high levels of stage-management by professional union organizers: In Chicago, WBEZ reported that organizers bused protesters from store to store while CBS Sacramento noted the presence of professional organizers at a California protest. Commentator Megan McArdle argued that the 2012 action was so poorly supported that there was no way it could even snowball into a meaningful organization of Wal-Mart employees.
In the lead-up to Black Friday 2013, a UFCW organizer disclosed in an organizing meeting that their goal is for 500 of Walmart’s 1.4 million hourly associates to participate in the so-called “strike” nationwide. A report in the lead-up to the events by liberal-leaning media outlet MSNBC noted that OUR Walmart itself had “been downplaying the number of strikers” and was emphasizing support from national liberal groups and other labor unions.
Alleged Violations of State Laws
Protesters affiliated with OUR Walmart have also demonstrated at the homes of Wal-Mart officials during the company’s annual meeting and even made empty threats promising massive actions to disrupt the general shareholders’ 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. Additionally, Wal-Mart has alleged that OUR Walmart’s disruptions of in-store operations amount to trespassing before courts in Texas and California; Wal-Mart’s attorneys reported that preliminary injunctions and temporary restraining orders were granted.