Unions Hate That Workers Highly Covet Wal-Mart Jobs

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The odds of getting into one of the top American universities are about 1 in 10. American workers view Walmart in the same way as high school seniors view American colleges: last year 5 million Americans applied to Walmart for 500,000 jobs. These are highly valued positions.

But unions think that Walmart employment policies are flawed. For the second year in row, on Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, unions are organizing 1,500 protests against Walmart. Protests will be held at stores as far north as Ellsworth, Maine, and Fargo, North Dakota, and as far south as Chula Vista, California, and Houston, Texas.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International, the Service Employees International Union, and the AFL-CIO are leading the charge. They have funded worker centers, labor organizations such as OUR Walmart and Jobs with Justice that use demonstrations, lobbying, and community organizing to purport to advocate for worker rights.

The worker centers' goal is for 500 Walmart employees to strike and join the protests. Walmart employs 1.3 million workers in the United States, so 500 workers constitute less than half of one percent of the Walmart workforce. This is far from a grassroots, worker-driven movement. Call it AstroTurf.

Unions are desperate because only 11 percent of American workers, including 7 percent of private sector workers, have chosen to be represented by a union. For years they have tried to unionize Walmart to reverse the trend.

Worker centers seek to use public shaming to persuade certain employers to change wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment. They want Walmart to pay all employees at least $25,000 a year and add full-time positions for those who want them. They pick on Walmart and fast food chains, but are not picketing Apple, which has bigger profits and also employs low-paid part-time staff.

No matter that fewer Walmart employees would likely be hired at required minimum annual earnings of $25,000, and that in some locations only part-time positions might be available.

After last year's demonstrations, Walmart secured injunctions against OUR Walmart and the United Food and Commercial Workers preventing them from trespassing. In order to avoid charges of illegal picketing from the National Labor Relations Board, the UFCW and OUR Walmart pledged not to try to unionize Walmart employees.

OUR Walmart posts a legal disclaimer on its Web site, stating that "UFCW and OUR Walmart have no intent to have Walmart recognize or bargain with UFCW or OUR Walmart as the representative of Walmart employees."

Ten days before Black Friday, the Office of the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board authorized a complaint against Walmart, as yet unproved, that some stores retaliated against employees for striking on Black Friday in 2012. The timing of the NLRB's announcement, coming more than 11 months after the incidents and just before Black Friday 2013, is curious.

Numerous worker centers are organizing protests, including the Movement Strategy Center, the UCLA Labor Center, Jobs with Justice, and Interfaith Worker Justice.

Last year the Movement Strategy Center, one of the organizers, received $100,000 from the SEIU, according to Labor Department records. Jobs with Justice and its affiliates received $40,604 from the AFL-CIO, $290,000 from the SEIU, and $212,000 from the UFCW.

Worker centers are doing the dirty work that unions are not allowed to do. Since unions are regulated by a series of laws, including the 1935 Wagner Act, the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, and the 1959 Landrum Griffin Act, they have certain obligations.

Unlike worker centers, unions must hold supervised elections so that members can elect union officials as representatives. Unions must file annual financial disclosure forms with the Labor Department, specifying how they spend their money. And they are not classified as tax-exempt 501 (c) 3 charities.

Since worker centers have no elected officials, there is no guarantee that they represent employees. In fact, the Black Friday protests work against the interests of Walmart employees. Many shoppers might reasonably decide to stay home and shop online, reducing the need for staff in stores.

Many worker centers, such as Jobs With Justice and Interfaith Worker Justice, are organized as 501(c)(3) entities, allowing them to receive tax-deductible donations. This status increases the amounts contributed by individuals and foundations.

Declining union membership means less funding available for union officials' salaries, and for political contributions. More important, the aging of union membership means that the generous defined benefit pension plans become unsustainable.

The Labor Department has informed the UFCW that several of its pension plans have reached "critical status" because they are less than 65 percent funded. The list of pension plans in critical condition is available here.

*     The Retail Food Employers and UFCW Local 711 Pension Trust Fund is in its fourth consecutive year of critical status.

*     The UFCW-Northern California Employers Joint Pension Trust Fund is in its fourth consecutive year of critical status.

*     The UFCW Local 1262 and Employers Pension Fund is in its sixth straight year of critical status.

*     The Alaska UFCW Pension Trust is in its third straight year of critical status.

*     The Food Employers Labor Relations Association and UFCW Pension Fund is in its sixth straight year of critical status.

*     The Southern California UFCW Unions and Drug Employers Pension Fund is in its second straight year of critical status.

*     The Southern California UFCW Unions and Food Employers Joint Pension Trust Fund is in its sixth year of critical status.

*     The UFCW Union and Participating Food Industry Employers Tri-State Pension Plan is in its second straight year of critical status.

*     The UFCW Unions and Participating Employers Pension Fund is in its fourth year of critical status.

As well as increasing contributions and reducing benefits, these pension plans need a stream of new members to regain solvency. But Walmart employees do not want to join the UFCW and put their pension contributions into failing pension plans.

Hence the unions' funding of worker centers, who can hold protests to stigmatize companies into allowing unionization without a secret ballot.

The AFL-CIO adopted the following resolution at its annual meetings in September: "The federation is encouraged to deepen and broaden the connections and collaborations with the worker center movement and work to eliminate concerns about possible undermining of standards established by unions."

If the AFL-CIO means the rule of the bully rather than the rule of law, it bodes ill for the American economy and American workers, including those who work at Walmart.


Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is senior fellow and director of Economics21 at the Manhattan Institute. Follow her on Twitter: @FurchtgottRoth.   

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