American Rights at Work/Jobs with Justice has released a white paper detailing Walmart’s extensive and systematic efforts to silence associates who speak out for better jobs. The paper features the stories of workers like Cindy Lee, a model employee and active OUR Walmart member who reports being fired for calling in sick after she was publicly involved with OUR Walmart last fall. The study also finds that Walmart has escalated efforts to silence associates and community supporters since the historic Black Friday strikes, in part with aggressive and meritless litigation intended to intimidate workers and their supporters from raising their concerns inside or near Walmart stores.
Read the white paper here.
“It’s no secret that many companies come down hard on workers who try to join together for fair pay or improved working conditions,” said Sarita Gupta, Executive Director of American Rights at Work/Jobs with Justice. “But Walmart goes above and beyond what we’ve seen from other employers. Not only does the company attempt to block workers’ collective activity by retaliating against those who speak out, now the company is challenging the First Amendment rights of workers and their supporters with ‘trespass’ lawsuits—pitting workers making poverty-level wages against a company with limitless resources.”
The report draws from more than 150 incidents to document Walmart’s efforts to deter lawful activities by the company’s workers involved in the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). Though federal labor law prohibits the use of coercive or intimidating actions by employers to interfere with workers’ “protected concerted activity,” some Walmart associates who have joined OUR Walmart and come together to address concerns about working conditions have faced harassment, threats, changes to their jobs and working conditions, and retaliatory discipline—including termination – for speaking out.
Carlton Smith, another worker featured in the study, is a 17-year Walmart associate who worked his way up to Department Manager in housewares at a Walmart store in Paramount, California. Concerned about deteriorating working conditions at the company and Walmart’s attempts to silence those who spoke out about them, Carlton participated in the Black Friday strike in November 2012 and, in April 2013, led a delegation of his fellow workers to raise concerns with store managers. Less than a month later, Walmart fired Carlton—the December 2012 employee of the month—without warning, on the pretext that he was failing to complete his work. Carlton is now fighting for his job before the National Labor Relations Board.
Walmart has also resorted to aggressive litigation tactics, filing lawsuits in Arkansas, California, Florida, and Washington State that charge OUR Walmart members and community supporters with trespassing. These lawsuits attempt to prevent associates and their supporters from exercising their right to free speech in and around Walmart stores. Meanwhile, Walmart recently withdrew one of the unfair labor practice charges it filed to try to stifle worker and community protests and strikes around Black Friday.
The report also documents Walmart’s ability to avoid legal repercussions by disguising retaliation as legitimate disciplinary actions or routine enforcement of company policy. As a result, the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency charged with protecting workers’ rights to engage in concerted activity, often chooses to act on only the most extreme cases of retaliation against associates.
“NLRB charges alone leave us with an inaccurate perception of the severity and pervasiveness of Walmart’s crackdown on workers,” said Erin Johansson, American Rights at Work/Jobs with Justice Research Director, who authored the report. “A closer look at the data shows that complaints issued by the NLRB barely scratch the surface of Walmart’s efforts to keep associates from joining together and speaking out. The good news is that Walmart workers are continuing to speak out, and their organization—OUR Walmart—is growing.”