Nov. 7, 2005 – Keeping the heat on the worldâ€™s largest retailer, the United Food and Commercial Workers on Friday unveiled a new organizing tool: the Wal-Mart Workers of America (WWOA). The UFCW said the effort is designed to "help empower Wal-Mart workers to join together in order to improve their working conditions, their lives and change Wal-Mart into a more responsible and moral corporation."
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Though the union contends that the association is not a labor organization, in the UFCW statement WakeUpWalMart.com campaign director Paul Blank outlined charges against the company and goals for WWOA that track closely to union aims and contentions. WakeUpWalMart.com is an earlier UFCW initiative.
"Everyday 1.3 million workers help make Wal-Mart one of Americaâ€™s most profitable companies, and yet, everyday it seems Wal-Mart finds new ways to exploit these hard-working Americans," Blank said. Wal-Mart Workers of America will be a powerful tool to help Wal-Martâ€™s workers join together to improve their lives and make Wal-Mart change for the better."
As part of their effort to sign 100,000 members, the association opened a website over the weekend where Wal-Mart workers can register. As of yet, other portions of the site are inaccessible and the UFCW has not made it clear what content will be made available to the general public.
In addition, WWOA is offering $200 towards health care money for 50 uninsured Wal-Mart workers who enroll in the association, and providing legal and labor-rights consultation and a toll-free hotline to handle workersâ€™ questions and concerns. Membership in the organization is free and open to all former and current Wal-Mart employees.
Wal-Mart spokesperson Christi Gallagher downplayed the effort as "nothing new" in an interview with Cybercast News Service. Comparing the association to an internet club, she told CNS, "The unions have been trying to organize our associates through the Internet for several years in a lot of different states and have not had any success."
The campaign comes as the company weathers a storm of bad publicity and activists prepare for a union-sponsored week of anti-Wal-Mart actions.
At the end of October, the inspector general of the Labor Department released a report highly critical of a deal the federal government struck with Wal-Mart over child-labor-law violations. The 90-page-report was especially critical of a Labor Department concession to give the company a fifteen-day notice prior to investigating future complaints.
Days before the inspector general made that report public, Wal-Mart Watch, another union-backed organization, obtained and released an internal Wal-Mart report recommending that employee benefits be lowered and "unhealthy" workers and potential workers be discouraged from working for the company.
Next week, several labor unions and groups critical of Wal-Mart plan to hold demonstrations and panels aimed at informing people about the companyâ€™s labor policies. The events purposely coincide with the release of an anti-Wal-Mart documentary.
Responding to growing criticism, Wal-Mart hired a politically-connected public relations firm known for strategies that parallel modern day political campaigns, the New York Times reported last week.