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000339 Union & Wal-Mart Clash Over Butchers

March 18, 2000

Tyler, TX - The United Food and Commercial Workers is seeking an injunction against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to prevent the giant retailer from eliminating meat cutting departments at 180 stores with prepackaged meat.

The union, which claims that the changes are in retaliation for union organizing at one of Wal-Mart's stores, asked the National Labor Relations Board on Monday for assistance in its fight against the world's biggest retailer.

An injunction would allow the union to continue seeking support from Wal- Mart workers nationwide while preserving the butchers' jobs.

The decision to eliminate the meat cutters came just weeks after the butchers at the Jacksonville, Texas, Wal-Mart voted 7-3 to join the UFCW, the first successful union vote in the country at a Wal-Mart, a company well known for its opposition to organized labor.

Wal-Mart adamantly denies that the decision to replace butchers at 180 of its Supercenters in six states had to do with the pro-union vote - or pending elections and organizing drives in Texas and Florida.

Wal-Mart said the change has been under consideration for nearly a year.

The union, however, argues that the action was a direct response to the union activities and points out that federal law requires Wal-Mart to negotiate with it before eliminating the jobs.

UFCW spokesman Greg Denier said the action was an attempt to deny employees a voice in the workplace. He said Wal-Mart was responding not only to the Jacksonville vote but to organizing efforts at about 20 Wal-Marts around the country.

In fact, union officials say that Wal-Mart's actions have strengthened support for organized labor, with employees at dozens of other stores now seeking representation.

Brad Edwards, a UFCW organizer, said meat cutters and mechanics at six Texas Wal-Marts will petition for a union vote in coming months.

“They are filling out cards by the droves,” he said. “They know the only way to save their jobs is to reach out to the union and vote the union in.”

Doug Dority, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, and AFL- CIO President John Sweeney gathered with a group of 200 people on Monday in Tyler, Texas, at a rally against Wal-Mart.

“Wal-Mart may be the biggest retailer and the biggest employer in the United States, but they are not bigger than the law, they are not bigger than the American labor movement, and together we are going to cut them down to size,” Sweeney said.

Jessica Moser, a spokeswoman for Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart, said a majority of Wal-Mart employees have rallied in support of the company.

“You have seven out of 915,000 associates that have voted” to unionize, she said. “Our associates for 38 years have said we don't want or need union representation.”

Wal-Mart's opposition to unions in its stores is legendary in business circles.

The company argued unsuccessfully - all the way to Washington - that all 300 store employees in Jacksonville, and not just the 10 meat cutters, should have been able to vote on joining a union.

Now it argues that union officials took improper actions to influence the vote, and a hearing is scheduled for March 28.


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