A walkout by Walmart workers on America’s biggest shopping event of the year could be a “game-changer” on many levels, according to labor experts from Cornell University’s ILR School. Organized by Making Change at Walmart and Organization United for Respect, and backed by United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents more than a million food-industry workers, the nation-wide wave of strikes and protests leading up to Black Friday could have significant implications for the big-box retailer’s stock. “It’s going to be huge. It’s going to be all over the world,” says Kate Bronfenbrenner, ILR’s director of labor education research. “For the first time, Walmart is flummoxed—what are they going to do? Fire every single worker and shut down stores?”
But the world’s largest store, which employs nearly 1.4 million workers in the United States, isn’t backing down without a fight. In a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday, Walmart said the UFCW is trying to force the store into collective bargaining even though it isn’t the official union for Walmart’s employees. “We are taking this action now because we cannot allow the UFCW to continue to intentionally seek to create an environment that could directly and adversely impact our customers and associates,” David Tovar, a spokesman for the company, says. “If they do, they will be held accountable.”
Bronfenbrenner says the Black Friday strike could be the largest-scale labor action ever.
In a letter to UFCW’s general council sent on Friday, Walmart said the workers’ ongoing actions violate the National Labor Relations Act, which requires pickets longer than 30 days to file a representation petition. The first strike occurred in Los Angeles in October, then spread to 28 stores in 12 states. A thousand store protests are planned in Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C., according to organizers.
“If [the store employees] are scheduled to work, we expect them to show up and do their job. If they don’t, depending on the circumstances, there could be consequences,” Tovar adds.
But regardless of the outcome, the campaign for better wages, benefits, and working conditions is likely to continue, says Margolies, an associate in The Worker Institute in New York City. “This strategy of direct pressure on large corporations to win improved pay and working conditions without a union contract has been successful for farm workers, domestic workers, and those working in warehouses and suppliers to Walmart,” he says.
Bronfenbrenner says the Black Friday strike could be the largest-scale labor action ever. “This is global pressure for Walmart to start changing its practices toward workers worldwide,” she says. “Unions are supporting any concerted activity at Walmart, regardless of whether the majority of their workers support the union at that workplace.”