For the first time since November’s Black Friday walkout, US Walmart retail workers are out on strike. At noon, half a dozen workers in Laurel, Maryland, walked off the job in protest of alleged retaliation by Walmart management. They were joined by Lancaster, Texas, Walmart employee Colby Harris, a fellow activist with the labor group OUR Walmart. After delivering a letter to their store manager, and protesting with supporters outside the Laurel Walmart, the workers filed new charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging illegal intimidation by the retail giant.
“What inspired me” to strike, Harris told The Nation, “was the fact that Walmart’s still using those same tactics to try to silence workers.” Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Today’s strike comes one week after a settlement between the NLRB and the United Food & Commercial Workers union, which backs OUR Walmart, regarding allegations brought by Walmart against the union. As The Nation reported, under the agreement, the UFCW agreed to refrain from picketing for sixty days, and to reiterate that it is not demanding union recognition from Walmart (the company had charged that the UFCW was organizing illegal pickets designed to pressure it to bargain collectively).
Workers allege that Walmart exploited that agreement to unleash a new round of intimidation against workers. They say that Walmart managers held mandatory meetings in which managers read from a memo telling workers that the strikes had been illegal, and that OUR Walmart was being dissolved. “They said that anybody who associates themselves with OUR Walmart, and the leaders, and the organization as a whole, could face disciplinary actions,” said Harris. He said he had not been pulled into such a meeting, but had heard about them from co-workers in states including Florida, Illinois, Kentucky and Maryland.
Following last week’s NLRB ruling, Walmart claimed it had been vindicated in declaring OUR Walmart’s protests to be illegal; OUR Walmart declared victory because it had always said it wasn’t demanding union recognition, and because the temporary ban on “picketing” would not prevent it from organizing other forms of protest, like strikes.
Harris had been in Washington, DC, to meet with allied organizations, but had been scheduled to return to Texas to work his scheduled shift today. He said he chose to extend his trip in order to join today’s strike in Maryland. “What we’re hoping to accomplish is that Walmart would come out and recognize us as an organization,” Harris told The Nation. “Because we do exist. And that they would adhere to what they said they would do, which is not violate our federal rights and try to silence workers.” Harris added that since Black Friday, “Things have been kind of quiet. We’ve been trying to reassess things for the new year. This is our first time taking action again.”
Read Josh Eidelson’s article on Starbucks’s shady labor relations in last week’s issue of The Nation.