As planned Black Friday strikes draw increasing media attention, Walmart continues to publicly dismiss the actions as stunts and the workers involved as an unrepresentative fringe. But workers charge that behind closed doors, the company is waging a stepped-up campaign to to intimidate them out of striking. That includes both alleged illegal threats and punishments, and likely legal mandatory meetings designed to discourage workers from joining the Black Friday rebellion.
Today, OUR Walmart filed the latest of dozens of National Labor Relations Board charges against Walmart. The charge, announced this evening, alleges that Walmart's national headquarters has "told store-level management to threaten workers with termination, discipline, and/or a lawsuit if they strike or engage in other concerted job actions on Black Friday" and that managers in cities including San Leandro, California, Fairfield, Connecticut, and Dallas have done exactly that. It also alleges that Walmart Vice President of Communications David Tovar "threatened employees" with his statements. OUR Walmart says it is seeking "immediate intervention" to remedy the alleged crimes. In an e-mailed statement, American Rights at Work Research Director Erin Johansson said, "Walmart appears to be issuing serious threats to employees to stop them from exercising their rights under law."
In past interviews, Walmart has denied that it illegally retaliates against workers for activism, and Tovar denied the latest allegations in an interview with The New York Times. But the company has not denied that it holds mandatory meetings to discourage it. (As in a union campaign, such “captive audience” meetings are legal, though some “threats” are not.) OUR Walmart confirmed that workers have reported being required to attend such meetings in the lead-up to Black Friday.
Christopher Bentley Owen, an overnight stocker at a Tulsa Walmart supercenter, told The Nation he and his co-workers were lectured about the strike at a mandatory 10 pm meeting last night. According to Owen, the highest-ranking manager on the graveyard shift read, “word for word,” what appeared to be a prepared script from corporate headquarters slamming the Black Friday actions planned by the labor group OUR Walmart. The statement called OUR Walmart a “wholly owned subsidiary” of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, called its actions a “stunt,” and warned that by discouraging customers, the Black Friday actions would hurt employees’ end-of-quarter bonuses. Rather than downplaying it, said Owen, “It seemed like they were treating it like the notion of people picketing outside of stores could be a big deal.”
Owen said that his manager read, verbatim, a list of questions and answers that appeared to have been designed to instruct managers how to respond to workers’ questions, rather than to be read word for word. According to Owen, the manager read a hypothetical question from a worker who had heard that the strikes were legally protected, followed by an answer that, “It seems to us that this action is not protected by the law.” He read a hypothetical question from a worker about whether striking on Friday could lead to punishment, and then, “Answer: No comment.” After reading that, said Owen, “He kind of chuckled.”