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Wal-Mart Supercenter Workers Move to Unionize

LOVELAND, Colo. - Nine of the 17 Tire and Lube Express workers at the Wal-Mart supercenter here are eager to join a union, despite the fact that their Bentonville, Ark.-based employer is staunchly -- and famously -- nonunion.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 said that the nine employees have signed cards indicating their interest in forming a union. The cards were handed in earlier this month to the National Labor Relations Board, which has scheduled a hearing for Thursday. If the employees' petition is certified, the NLRB will schedule a vote for the department.

In an interview with Progressive Grocer, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Christi Gallagher said that since almost 400 people work at the store in question, all employees "should have a say in such an important matter," instead of just a few in a single department. She said the company at this point was awaiting the representation hearing, and she would not venture to predict the outcome.

According to Gallagher, Wal-Mart's labor team had gone to the Loveland supercenter to clear up any "misinformation" that might come from the union as it continues its organizing activities. She explained that the team, which is well versed in labor law, would also ensure that store managers understand the process, and would make sure no violations of workers' rights occur. Such informational meetings with employees are completely voluntary, she added.

UFCW spokesman Dave Minshall told Progressive Grocer that he wasn't sure whether the Loveland Wal-Mart employees had approached the union or vice versa, but he noted that there was "an ongoing effort to unionize Wal-Marts in Colorado."

Although he didn't dispute that the union has had difficulties establishing itself at the company's stores, he remained confident that it was just a matter of time before the UFCW prevailed: "Sooner or later, workers are going to successfully unionize a Wal-Mart somewhere."

He added that it was in Wal-Mart's interest to insist that every employee at the Loveland supercenter have the opportunity to vote on whether to unionize, since the company was aware that the high turnover in its stores made a vote in favor of unionization virtually impossible, as short-term workers typically have less of stake in unionization efforts. On the other hand, he pointed out, the Tire and Lube Express department was relatively stable, being composed of longer-term workers, and should be able to vote separately.

To date, unionization efforts at U.S. Wal-Mart stores have met with little success, according to published reports. When meatcutters at a Jacksonville, Texas store gained UFCW representation in 2000, the company shortly afterward said that all of its stores would carry only prepackaged meat. The timing of the decision was coincidental, according to Wal-Mart.

In other countries, unions have gained small footholds at Wal-Mart units. In response to a threatened lawsuit, Wal-Mart said last week that it would permit branches of China's official Communist Party-controlled union in stores there, if employees wanted them.

-- Bridget Goldschmidt
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