Human Rights Watch says workers have 'virtually no chance' to organize
Washington (3 May 2007) – Wal-Mart’s relentless exploitation of weak American labour laws thwarts union formation and violates the rights of its U.S. workers, says a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
It is the largest human rights organization based in the United States.
In the 210-page report, Discounting Rights: Wal-Mart’s Violation of US Workers’ Right to Freedom of Association, the group reports that while many U.S. companies use weak laws to stop workers from organizing, Wal-Mart stands out for the sheer magnitude and aggressiveness of its anti-union apparatus.
Many of its tactics are technically lawful in the U.S., though they combine to undermine workers’ legitimate rights. Others run afoul of even the soft laws that exist on U.S. books.
“Wal-Mart workers have virtually no chance to organize because they’re up against unfair U.S. labour laws and a giant company that will do just about anything to keep unions out,” says Carol Pier, senior researcher on labour rights and trade for HRW.
“That one-two punch devastates workers’ right to form and join unions.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is supporting the drive by the United Food and Commerical Workers (UFCW Canada) to organize Wal-Mart workers in Canada.
As the world’s largest company, Wal-Mart’s conduct is especially troubling, Human Rights Watch adds.
Wal-Mart had $351.14 billion in revenue and $11.3 billion in profits in the fiscal year ending January 2007. It is the largest private U.S. employer, with more than 1.3 million U.S. workers and close to 4,000 stores nationwide. None of those workers is represented by a union.
HRW says this is no accident.
The group’s investigation revealed that, in most cases, Wal-Mart begins to indoctrinate workers and managers to oppose unions from the moment they are hired.
Managers receive explicit instructions on keeping out unions, many of which are found in the company’s “Manager’s Toolbox,” a self-described guide to managers on “how to remain union free in the event union organizers choose your facility as their next target.”
If workers try to organize, store managers must report it to Wal-Mart’s Union Hotline at headquarters. The company responds by dispatching its labour relations team immediately to squash the effort.
Team members hold small- and large-group “captive audience” meetings, which workers are strongly urged to attend. Workers hear of the terrible consequences of union formation and see videos dramatizing the message. Wal-Mart envelops workers with its anti-union mantra and allows little space for union supporters and organizers to respond. Under U.S. law, it does not have to.
“Employers can make their anti-union case loud and clear in the workplace, while banning union reps from company property,” says Pier. “That’s hardly a free and democratic election climate, and it would be unfair in any political contest.” NUPGE