August 4, 2003
Wal-Mart’s benefits book misled approximately a million workers with illegal language about exclusions to the plan – leading the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) to support a lawsuit against the company on behalf of Wal-Mart associates. The lawsuit charges that the summary plan description, or Wal-Mart Associate Benefit Book, violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The Benefit Book is required by law to accurately and clearly inform associates about their benefits?but Wal-Mart is misleading workers with language inconsistent with benefit plan documents.
“”Wal-Mart will go to any length – even trying to make their employees fear losing their benefits – to stop workers from having a voice in their stores,”” says UFCW Executive Vice President Mike Leonard. “”It is a slap in the face of workers for Wal-Mart to lie about benefits to protect their own interests.””
Once union organizing began in stores around the country, Wal-Mart placed illegal language in its benefit book, stating that “” union represented associates”” are excluded from participation. Recently, a National Labor Relations Board Administrative Law Judge ruled that the language violated the National Labor Relations Act. In the decision, the judge called the language, “”a not very subtle threat to its [Wal-Mart’s] employees that something unpleasant will happen to them if they organize, namely the loss of company benefits.””
David Rosenfeld has filed the lawsuit in San Francisco, charging that Wal-Mart is using its employee benefit book to further its anti-union campaign?rather than to accurately inform workers as ERISA requires. The lawsuit seeks, among other things, fixing the benefit book and notifying workers of their rights.
“”Wal-Mart has been trying to hold its benefits hostage in exchange for employees giving up their rights to organize,”” explains Leonard. “”We will do whatever it takes under the law to ensure that workers get the information they are entitled to about their benefits, and their right to organize.””