US la­bor group seeks re­hir­ing of work­ers at 5 Wal-Mart stores

The China Post - - WORLD BUSINESS - BY ANNE D’IN­NO­CEN­ZIO

An Amer­i­can union is ask­ing la­bor reg­u­la­tors to go to court to force Wal-Mart to re­hire all 2,200 em­ploy­ees af­fected by the abrupt tem­po­rary closing of five stores a week ago.

The United Food and Com­mer­cial Work­ers In­ter­na­tional Union filed the charge with the Na­tional La­bor Re­la­tions Board on Mon­day, ar­gu­ing the clos­ings were re­tal­i­a­tion for la­bor ac­tivism. Wal- Mart says it closed the stores to fix plumb­ing is­sues.

One af­fected store, in Pico Rivera, Cal­i­for­nia, has been a hot­bed for worker protests against Wal-Mart. It was the first store to wage such protests, in Oc­to­ber 2012. The other stores are in Mid­land and Livingston, Texas; Tulsa, Ok­la­homa; and Bran­don, Florida.

The food and com­mer­cial work­ers union made its fil­ing on be­half of OUR Wal- Mart, a group of Wal- Mart em­ploy­ees that it backs that has pushed for bet­ter pay and work­ing con­di­tions.

“This is a new low, even for Wal- Mart,” Ve­nanzi Luna, an eight-year Wal-Mart worker and mem­ber of OUR Wal­mart, said in a state­ment. “Through OUR Wal­Mart, we’re go­ing to keep fight­ing back un­til the com­pany gives us our jobs back.”

Wal-Mart said in a state­ment that it does not be­lieve there is any ba­sis for an in­junc­tion.

“As we have said all along, th­ese stores were closed tem­po­rar­ily so we could fix the on­go­ing plumb­ing is­sues and it would be un­for­tu­nate if this out­side group at­tempts to slow this process down for our as­so­ciates and cus­tomers,” the com­pany said.

The stores will re­main shut­tered for up to six months, Wal­Mart spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said. The com­pany has said that the work­ers would be put on paid leave for two months and it would look to trans­fer some to nearby stores.

Lopez did ac­knowl­edge that it was atyp­i­cal for Wal-Mart to tem­po­rar­ily close stores for plumb­ing is­sues but said the com­pany wanted to im­prove the cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence.

“We un­der­stand this de­ci­sion has been dif­fi­cult on our as­so­ciates and our cus­tomers and we aim to re­open th­ese stores as soon as th­ese is­sues are re­solved and im­prove­ments are made,” Wal-Mart said in a state­ment.

Lopez noted that the stores have had be­tween 100 and 140 ser­vice calls for plumb­ing is­sues, the high­est in­ci­dence of plumb­ing is­sues in its 4,500 stores.

Wal- Mart emailed to The As­so­ci­ated Press ex­cerpts from doc­u­ments that high­lighted is­sues at the Pico Rivera store that in­cluded in­ci­dents of leaky toi­lets and wa­ter flow­ing to the back room and onto the sales floor un­der egg cool­ers. It also cited clogged floor drains in the deli. Those in­ci­dents, said Lopez, were part of the rea­son why the Pico Rivera deli was down­graded by the Health Depart­ment to a “B” rat­ing, caus­ing a tem­po­rary closing of the depart­ment.

He also said the re­tailer would look to make other up­dates to the stores. Lopez said the com­pany has not filed any lo­cal con­struc­tion per­mits be­cause it still is as­sess­ing what needs to be done.

The worker group wants the la­bor board to seek a court in­junc­tion, which can be quicker than typ­i­cal NLRB pro­ceed­ings, the group said.

Wal-Mart has got­ten it­self in trou­ble for sim­i­lar ac­tions. In June 2014, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that Wal-Mart had vi­o­lated la­bor laws when it closed a store in Que­bec. The em­ploy­ees in that lo­ca­tion had voted to join a union. That made it the first union­ized store in North Amer­ica just be­fore the store was closed.

Wal- Mart has been mak­ing moves to in­crease pay for its work­ers. The com­pany an­nounced in Fe­bru­ary that it was in­creas­ing the min­i­mum wage it pays its hourly work­ers to at least US$9 (NT$280) this month and to at least US$10 in Fe­bru­ary 2016. The fed­eral min­i­mum wage is US$7.25 per hour.

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