Labor Seeks to Unionize Wal-Mart

WASHINGTON - Organized labor is escalating efforts to unionize Wal-Mart after five years of failed attempts, The Associated Press reports. Rallies are set Thursday in 40 cities to demand pay and better working conditions from the world's largest retailer.

Labor leaders are seeking civil rights, religious and women's groups to help apply pressure against Wal-Mart.

"We are demanding corporate accountability," said Doug Dority, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

Other groups in the campaign include the National Organization for Women, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and United Students Against Sweatshops.

Wal-Mart's "Always Low Prices" guarantee comes with a big price, coalition leaders say. They claim the company keeps unions out with intimidation, harassment and threats.

Thousands of lawsuits are filed annually against the company alleging workplace abuse. Wal-Mart is fighting 38 different state and federal lawsuits filed by hourly workers in 30 states, accusing the company of systematically forcing them to work long hours off the clock.

Wal-Mart rejected the criticism. "We simply do not shortchange our people," said spokesman Bill Wertz. "We offer our associates very competitive wages and benefits."

While none of Wal-Mart?s 1.3 million employees belong to a union, Wertz contends that the company is not anti-union. "We are striving to keep the close relationship and direct communication we've always had within our stores, and we feel a union as an agent or third party would interfere with that," he said.

The only union success at a Wal-Mart came in 2000 in the butcher's department in a Jacksonville, Texas, store. After seven of 10 butchers voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers, Wal-Mart announced it was closing its meat-cutting departments in favor of prepackaged meat.
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