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Some Wal-Mart workers walk out in lead-up to Black Friday

November 16, 2012|By Shan Li
  • Wal-Mart is accusing the United Food and Commercial Workers Union of engaging in unfair labor practices and illegal attempts to disrupt its business. Above, an employee at a Rhode Island store.
Wal-Mart is accusing the United Food and Commercial Workers Union of engaging… (Steven Senne / Associated…)

Wal-Mart is accusing a labor union of unfairly organizing months of protests outside its stores just as it faces orchestrated demonstrations by workers in the days leading up to Black Friday.

On Thursday, the world's largest retailer asked the National Labor Relations Board to stop the United Food and Commercial Workers Union from engaging in what it alleged were unfair labor practices and illegal attempts to disrupt its business.

The complaint alleging unfair labor practices is being filed shortly before a group of Wal-Mart workers plans to protest on Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

About 50 Wal-Mart employees have walked off the jobs this week from stores in San Leandro, Calif., Seattle and Dallas.

"We are taking this action now because we cannot allow the UFCW to continue to intentionally seek to create an environment that could directly and adversely impact our customers and associates," Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar told Reuters.

Wal-Mart has been the target of several protests, flash mobs and online petitions in the last few months. These events have been organized in part by advocacy group Making Change at Wal-Mart and by OUR Wal-Mart, a collection of workers who are pushing for better working coniditions. Both groups are affiliated with the UFCW union.

Colby Harris, a member of OUR Wal-Mart from Texas, said the retailer was trying to "silence" its workers' voices.

"But nothing, not even this baseless unfair labor practice charge -- will stop us from speaking out," Harris said. "Unfair labor is working full time and living in poverty."

On Friday, Wal-Mart lawyers sent a letter, obtained by Reuters, to the UFCW general counsel accusing the union of provoking "disruptions" in its business, spreading "misinformation" and creating an "uncomfortable environment and undue stress on Wal-Mart's customers."

The letter says the National Labor Relations Board is allowed to stop any such activities that go on for more than 30 days without a representation petition. Wal-Mart says it's prepared to "protect our business."

Things may come to a head next week. Organizers say they have about 1,000 events planned outside Wal-Mart stores, culminating in protests on Black Friday.

Wal-Mart is rolling out Black Friday deals starting at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, exciting some shoppers and angering others. A petition on Signon.org urging the retailer to delay the doorbuster deals until later has garnered almost 25,000 signatures online.

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Follow Shan Li on Twitter @ShanLi

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