September 16, 2003

Wal-Mart Workers’ Right to Talk Union on Job Upheld By Judge

Wal-Mart’s effort to silence workers through a ‘no solicitation’ policy its managers interpret as prohibiting any talk about union organizing is blatantly illegal, a National Labor Relations Board Judge has ruled in a case involving the Wal‑Mart Supercenter in Aiken, South Carolina.

Administrative Law Judge John West also found that Wal‑Mart illegally used wage increases for 89 employees at the first sign of union activity to take away one reason the workers were organizing with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union.

The judge ordered the company to admit the purpose of the wage increases in a posting for employees was to influence them not to join a union.  This was contrary to Wal‑Mart spokesman Bill Wertz’s insistence to a reporter in February that the judge would order the wage increases rescinded, showing that the union was “”acting in a way contrary to the interest of those associates,”” Wal‑Mart’s term for employees.

“”Judge West has given Wal‑Mart workers everywhere the roadmap to a wage increase: start talking about forming a union on the job,”” said UFCW Executive Vice President Michael E. Leonard, Director of the union’s Strategic Programs Department.

The ALJ’s ruling said that Wal-Mart workers discussing the union at work is not “soliciting by any stretch of the imagination.”   Federal law gives workers the right to organize for a voice on the job. Wal-Mart has taken drastic steps to silence its workers and deny them the opportunity to participate in the democratic process to make a choice for a voice at work.

Aiken Wal-Mart workers Barbara Hall and Kathleen MacDonald were frustrated by Wal-Mart’s low wages and set out to try and organize their co-workers.   Hall and MacDonald talked to their co-workers about the union and asked people if they could call them after work.  Wal-Mart managers and Bentonville “People Managers” descended on the store with their usual carrot and stick approach to union busting – silencing some workers by giving them a bump in wages and then disciplining vocal union supporters.

The ALJ said, “To ask and employee for their telephone number to discuss the union, if the employee is interested, after work is not soliciting by any stretch of the imagination.”

Wal-Mart has used its ‘no solicitation’ policy in stores across the country to intimidate workers from talking about the union and attempts to use the policy as an excuse to discipline or fire workers who it suspects are union supporters.  Larry Allen, a Wal-Mart worker from Las Vegas, was fired in August for supposedly violating the ‘no solicitation’ policy.  Allen had traveled to San Francisco to talk with reporters at the UFCW International Convention about Wal-Mart’s lousy health insurance plan for workers.  After returning to work, Allen was singled out and fired by Wal-Mart.  His case is pending before the NLRB.

Over the past four years, Wal-Mart has changed its ‘no solicitation’ policy at least four times – each change based on a legal ruling against them that its policy is illegal.  Charges are pending before the NLRB that the current policy violates workers’ rights.


Read the ruling (pdf)