Union front groups are planning more than 1,500 protests at Walmarts nationwide on Black Friday despite lacking significant support from actual employees, critics say.
The Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), a self-proclaimed subsidiary of the United Food and Commercial Workers retail union (UFCW), says it will picket 1,500 stores the day after Thanksgiving, one of the largest shopping days of the year.
“Associates do stick together and look out for each other. We have to because Walmart and the Waltons seem to be fine with the financial struggles that we’re all facing,” Colorado Walmart employee Barbara Gertz said in an OUR Walmart release. “We’re are all in the same situation, one that Walmart creates by paying us poverty wages.”
Gertz appears to represent a small minority of Walmart’s 1.3 million employees. OUR Walmart’s 2012 Black Friday protest featured thousands of demonstrators, but less than 50 actual associates, according to the company. Labor watchdogs expect more of the same this year, especially because the worker center keeps focusing on the number of protests, rather than the number of employee dissidents.
“They’re not the type of grassroots worker-driven efforts that media portrays them to be,” Ryan Williams of Worker Center Watch said. “They’re protests held by professional protesters—oftentimes paid and given training—to cause a scene for publicity.”
J. Justin Wilson, managing director of the Center for Union Facts, said that UFCW members, political allies, and paid protestors dominate such rallies, in order to give off the appearance of strength.
“OUR Walmart has nowhere near the support they need to unionize Walmart; if they did, they would do it,” he said. “The goal is to get 500 workers to attend [the protests]—they’d need 650,000 workers for a successful organization campaign.”
OUR Walmart did not respond to Washington Free Beacon requests for comment.
OUR Walmart has been on a media blitz for much of the past year, staging protests and walkouts at the retail giant. Federal labor law limits how long workers are allowed to strike for, but OUR Walmart has been able to avoid such restrictions.
The group is registered as a 501(c)5 worker center and straddles a murky area of labor law since neither the National Labor Relations Board—which has jurisdiction over labor relations—nor the Department of Labor—which handles union disclosure filings—have taken definitive action to classify them.
Worker centers, such as OUR Walmart, are not bound by the same federal labor law that has regulated unions for nearly a century. They can organize protests inside and outside of stores in perpetuity, stage pressure campaigns against suppliers and clients, claim to represent workers without organizing campaigns, and appoint their own leaders without member elections, according to Vinnie Vernuccio, a labor expert at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
“It’s an effective strategy because if it’s OUR Walmart or other organizations making accusations that tarnish the company’s brand, the union’s fingerprints aren’t on it, so people are more likely to believe them,” he said.
Enhanced credibility and the ability to avoid concrete labor limitations have made worker centers the future of union organizing efforts, according to Wilson.
“Endowing these front groups is the latest in long chain of ideas to address falling union membership,” he said.
The politically powerful AFL-CIO declared worker centers the “future of unions” in March and union President Richard Trumka announced in its September convention that it would seek to bring worker centers closer to the union umbrella, as unions like UFCW have done.
Such tight connections will only see movements like OUR Walmart grow in the future, according to Worker Center Watch’s Williams.
“We’re seeing more organizing by unions to put together phony astroturf protests aimed at Walmart and other retailers to bully, coerce, and intimidate them,” he said. “Their efforts to portray this as a worker-driven uprising are bogus.”
Unions alone aren’t enough to drive future Black Friday walkouts and protests.
“Their success comes from the media covering it, regardless of how many workers walk out,” Vernuccio said. “And there won’t be many workers on Black Friday. Just like last year.”