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Walmart Memo Shows More Concern for Labor Rights

In response to recent labor strikes that spread to 28 stores
in 12 cities, Walmart issued a confidential internal memo that has been
obtained by several news sources
. The memo is meant for salaried employees and
attempts to deal with the strikes that are the first in the company’s 50 year
history. In contrast to public statements decrying the strikes as a “publicity
stunt”, the memo takes the strikes as a serious attack by labor organizers on
the Walmart business model, and takes some steps to ensure labor rights are
being respected by store managers.

The memo’s primary purpose is to make sure managers don’t
violate their employees labor rights by preventing employees from engaging in
non-union labor organizing, known as “concerted activity” in NLRB terminology.
Walmart has traditionally had a rocky relationship with organized labor, and
the memo goes out of its way to point out to managers that they cannot
intimidate, threaten, or spy on “associates” who choose to engage in protected
labor activities, such as striking and engaging in store sit-ins.

The workers want Walmart to end retaliatory practices
against employees who organize, and threaten to strike on Black Friday,
November 23rd (the biggest shopping day of the year) if their
demands have not been met.  A Walmart
spokesman stated that the memo was not in response to the strikes, which he
said were designed to help unions’ fundraising goals, but were instead tied to
National Labor Relations Board charges filed against the company by employees
over the past few weeks. The charges include the typical assortment of
allegations of harassment, cut hours, and workplace discipline after Walmart
managers learned employees were supporting union-led activities.

The new memo may also reflect an acknowledgement of the
NLRB’s recent pro-labor stance. Traditionally, Walmart has encouraged managers
to threaten employees with termination if they went on strike, and had
publicized information on the supposed “false claims” made by unions. The
current memo does reiterate the policy of having managers “coach by walking
around”, a technique that in the past has been linked with managers spying on
and reporting labor activity.

Labor
organizers are skeptical one document will alter five decades of anti-labor
policies by Walmart, especially given the company is facing upcoming Unfair
Labor Practice proceedings where having explicit pro-labor directions to
managers could be seen as convenient. However, some are hopeful the strikes and
this document illustrate changing attitudes at Walmart.