With historic strikes underway and Black Friday protests planned, Walmart files complaint against union

Walmart filed an unfair labor practice charge last week against the United Food and Commercial Workers union, asking the National Labor Relations Board to block efforts to disrupt business during the busiest shopping season of the year.

A UFCW-backed group of Walmart employees called OUR Walmart is planning protests outside hundreds of Walmart stores nationwide on Black Friday to draw attention to low pay and unfair workplace practices.

In a Nov. 16 letter to UFCW announcing the complaint, attorneys for the Arkansas-based retail giant accused the union of "orchestrating and promoting" actions that could "directly and adversely impact safety for Walmart's customers and associates." The union rejects the charges.

"Walmart is grasping at straws to try to stop a groundswell of voices from associates and their supporters who are protesting the company’s unlawful attempts to silence workers," the UFCW said in a statement.

The planned Black Friday protests come amid growing unrest among Walmart workers. Last Wednesday, Walmart employees went on strike in Southern California, and they were joined the following day by colleagues in Seattle. Actions are also planned at stores in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., as well as in Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi and Oklahoma

The workers are protesting what they say is the company's manipulation of hours and benefits, its efforts to keep employees from working full-time, discrimination against women and people of color, and retaliation against workers who speak out. Some are also upset about being scheduled to work early on the Thanksgiving Day holiday, when the company has moved up its usual opening time by two hours to 8 p.m.

The strikers are not union members -- no Walmart employees are -- but the UFCW supports their actions. OUR Walmart has also filed dozens of unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB, accusing the company of firing workers or cutting their hours cut for being active with the group.

The wave of strikes -- the first against the company in its 50-year history -- began last month, with store employees and supply chain workers walking off the job in 12 states. Labor experts described the supply chain disruptions in particular as game-changing for Walmart, which has become accustomed to shrugging off criticism and protests by labor activists.

Walmart earned $15.7 billion in profits in 2011, and CEO Michael Duke got $23.5 million in total compensation. Yet many of its workers earn such low wages that thousands qualify for Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor.

(Photo from the website of OUR Walmart.)