NLRB EYES WAL-MART, UNION CASE

Byline: Jim Ostroff

WASHINGTON — In a crucial labor case for Wal-Mart, the National Labor Relations Board has been conducting a hearing this week in Palestine, Tex., to determine whether a group of workers at a Wal-Mart store there can vote to join a union.
An NLRB spokeswoman at the board’s Fort Worth, Tex., regional office, said a decision should be made during the week of March 13.
This week’s proceeding comes about two weeks after a group of workers at a Wal-Mart supercenter in Jacksonville, Tex., voted to unionize and join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. That development marked the first time that workers at a Wal-Mart store in the U.S. voted for union representation.
In Palestine, Tex, Wal-Mart is contesting a vote by 18 meat and seafood workers in one of its supercenters to affiliate with the UFCW.
These unionizing events at Wal-Mart in Texas could trigger further unionizing activities at other Wal-Mart stores and at other chains around the country. At Wal-Mart in Canada, employees at just one store have unionized.
Wal-Mart filed an objection to the Jacksonville outcome, contending the 10 meat department employees who participated in the vote only represent about 3 percent of the store’s 365-person workforce. The appeal is being heard by the NLRB’s Fort Worth office and there is no deadline for rendering a decision, which could be appealed to the full five-member board, here.
As far as the Palestine, Tex., situation, “Every associate in the store should be included in a vote since it takes every associate to make the store a success,” the Wal-Mart spokeswoman said. She added that the UFCW shouldn’t be able to carve out a small handful of associates as an organizing unit. “All of our associates come to work every day and work hard to make this store a success, and all should have an opportunity to participate in an election,” she said.
The spokeswoman said Wal-Mart had other grounds for contesting the unionizing effort at its Palestine, Tex., store. A case-ready beef product line is being expanded to enable customers to self-select product. “The department the [UFCW] is trying to bring in as a bargaining unit will no longer exist and so the point is moot,” she said.
In order for a group of store workers to be represented by a union in their contract negotiations, a majority of these workers must vote in favor of affiliating with a union. Once the vote has been certified by the NLRB, the union local begins negotiation with the employer on the workers’ contract.
A UFCW spokeswoman said the union challenges Wal-Mart’s contention that everybody in the store should vote on unionizing. She said the NLRB permitted the Jacksonville meat cutters to join the UFCW, without other workers in the stores being represented.
A spokeswoman with the NLRB in Fort Worth said that the two sides have seven days after completion of the hearing in Palestine to file briefs in the matter. She said that should the board sanction a union vote, an election would be scheduled no sooner than 25 days after this decision.
The NLRB spokeswoman said that an employer could contest the local board’s decision to sanction a union vote by appealing to the NLRB in Washington.
“Wal-Marthas benefited from a low expense ratio, through keeping unions at bay and projecting a ‘feel-good’ team atmosphere. This could be the beginning of something else,” said Isaac Lagnado, president of Tactical Retail consulting. “It’s potentially an explosive issue. The expense structure and the margin structure of someone like a Wal-Mart would be very adversely affected by unionization.”

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