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Wal-Mart Wins One, Loses One

LOVELAND, Colo. and NEW YORK CITY -- Workers at a Wal-Mart Tire & Lube Express (TLE) here decided against union representation Friday, by a vote of 17 to one. The rejected proposal would have established the first union inside any U.S. Wal-Mart location.

United Food and Commercial Workers spokesman Dave Minshall said the union would ask the National Labor Relations Board to throw out the results, since no union member was permitted to monitor the election at a TLE. Minshall accused the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer of adding workers to the unit to dilute the strength of those in favor of the union. The regional office of the National Labor Relations Board supervised the vote, after turning down an appeal by Wal-Mart executives to stop it. The company had maintained that the TLE was not a standalone operation but just a department of the store.

Said Wal-Mart v.p. for labor relations Terry Srsen in a statement released after the vote, "Many of our associates are former union members -- they know better than anyone that the only guarantee a union can make is that it will cost the members money -- and that is why they continue to reject the UFCW."

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Christi Gallagher told Progressive Grocer that the company was "very pleased" that its workers have rejected the union as Wal-Mart employees have previously done "time and time again." The reason for this, she explained, was Wal-Mart's "very comfortable, open environment" regarding associate-manager relations, which she characterized as a "two-way street."

Other UFCW efforts to organize TLE shops across the United States have been unsuccessful, as in Lake Elsinore, Calif., where the UFCW ultimately withdrew its petition for an election due to a lack of worker support, Wal-Mart said. A unionized Wal-Mart in Quebec has been slated to close because of economic reasons, according to the retailer.

In other Wal-Mart news the chain was hit with a $7.5 million verdict for disability discrimination, returned by a jury, after a week-long trial in the Eastern District of New York.

The jury decided in favor of a former employee who suffers from cerebral palsy, finding that the plaintiff, Patrick Brady, was unlawfully discriminated against when he was transferred by a Wal-Mart departmental manager from his position in the pharmacy to a position picking up garbage and collecting shopping carts in the parking lot. The jury also found that Brady was asked impermissible pre-employment questions concerning his disability.

"The jury verdict was well reasoned and thoughtful," said Douglas H. Wigdor, a partner at Thompson Wigdor & Gilly LLP, and lead counsel for Brady. "They recognized from the evidence that we presented that Wal-Mart and [the department manager] acted unlawfully and that Brady suffered severe emotional distress because of their actions."

Christi Gallagher, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said in a statement that Wal-Mart was optimistic that the award "will be substantially reduced or eliminated altogether."
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