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R-E-S-P-E-C-T: UFCW, Walmart workers try new, non-union approach

June 22nd, 2011  |  Connie Eyer

While both sides continue to weigh in on the ramifications of the recent Walmart v Dukes decision and how employees will be treated going forward, one union that has been trying to help organize Walmart employees, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the nation’s main union for retail workers, has vowed to continue its 20-year fight against the giant retailer. Repeatedly prevented by Walmart from forming unions, UFCW is now assisting employees in trying a non-union organizing route based on–wait for it–demanding respect.

Reporting last week, The New York Times writes that the new group, United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart for short, intends to press for better pay, benefits and most of all, more respect at work:

The organization says it has quietly signed up thousands of members in recent months, and it is going public this week with a website, ourwalmart.org, and a Facebook page. Organizers say they have more than 50 members at some stores, and they hope to soon have tens of thousands of members. Wal-Mart has nearly 1.4 million workers nationwide.

Although the website of OUR Walmart depicts the organization as a grass-roots effort by store employees, the NYT reports that UFCW has provided a sizable sum — the union will not say how much — to help the group get started. The union has also paid hundreds of its members to go door to door to urge Walmart workers to join the group.

In addition, the organizers are receiving help from ASGK Public Strategies, a consulting firm long associated with David Axelrod, President Obama’s top political strategist. In recent weeks, NYT noted, the fledgling group has organized gatherings of 10 to 80 workers in Dallas, Seattle, Los Angeles and other cities, meeting inside churches, fast-food restaurants and employees’ homes, where the workers debated how best to improve Wal-Mart. One big concern, they said, was low wages.

Although the group will not negotiate contracts on behalf of workers as a union would do, its members could possibly benefit from federal labor laws that protect workers from retaliation for engaging in collective discussion and action.

Concerned that the new organization is essentially a stalking horse for eventual unionization, Walmart officials contend that UFCW is intent on pushing up the store’s wages and slowing its expansion to help protect the union’s members at other retailers from competition. Some store’s workers, however, claimed that, while a concern was low wages, “they [the managers] don’t seem to care about respect for the individuals. We need to bring back respect.”