Unions' Secret Strategy To Win Back Workers

Walmart workers strike

On Black Friday this year, workers in 1,000 Walmart stores in 46 states made history of sorts, becoming the first time Walmart workers had an organized strike. Six days after, workers at fast food outlets in New York City organized their own walk outs, marking what some experts said was the first multi-restaurant strike by fast food workers in the country.

While neither strike made a dent in sales --- in fact, Walmart broke records on Black Friday --- the worker actions made big headlines, and that was the point. With union membership at its lowest point in 70 years, activists have been busy strategizing on how to make unions relevant in a global economy. And they've hit upon one: focus on income inequality and broad social and economic justice issues -- rather than on how to improve working conditions at one workplace.

In fact, organizers are staging a protest in 10 countries Friday at which Walmart workers are calling on company management to stop silencing "workers for speaking out out for changes," according to an email sent out by the Making Change at Walmart movement. It's been organizing the rallies, and includes the non-union group OUR Walmart of company employees.

"It's about putting the labor back into the labor movement," says Dan Schlademan, director of the campaign, which is being led by the United Food and Commercial Workers' Union. "It's not just about building up unions or how to fix problems at one store. It's about sectors as a whole, and the broader problems of how people can't live off the wages they are making."

The new emphasis is largely inspired by the Occupy movement and its populist appeal. "A lot of people critiqued the Occupy movement, but it changed the debate about equality," says Schlademan.

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Labor's New Approach: Forget The Specifics

Schlademan says the Black Friday protest was the largest organized action against Walmart in its 50-year history. But what made it notable was that it focused on big picture, social-justice issues -- workers' overall standard of living -- as opposed to the conditions at any one Walmart.

Management always talks "about priding themselves on their relationships with customers, but who do those customers have a relationship with?" one striking worker told AOL Jobs. "They take pride in certain qualities, but those are the qualities in their associates, the same associates they're turning around and backstabbing." Indeed, the pay model for a Walmart "cart pusher" has been revealed to start at $8 an hour, and to rise to $10.60 after six years of "solid performance." (Walmart did not respond to requests for an interview with AOL Jobs.)

"Forget the American dream. This is the American nightmare. What's it like to be a Walmart 99 percenter when the Waltons (owners of Walmart) live as they do?" says Schlademan. Four members of the Walton family are on Forbes' list of the 10 wealthiest Americans, with Christy Walton and her $27.9 billion net worth ranked highest, and sixth overall.

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But Is This Approach Helping Workers?

That is up for debate. The Walmart protests have yet to result in policy changes at the company, but Shladerman notes that similar actions have. Take the Justice for Janitors campaign, a campaign of the Service Employees International Union which was started in the 1990s.

The campaign was inspired by the trend of companies hiring contractors for their janitorial work as opposed to keeping full-time janitors on staff, says Schlademan, who was the organizational director for SEIU Local 1 in Chicago in the late 1990s and worked on the campaign. Such a move enabled companies to shrink benefits, he says. Indeed, wages dropped from $7.00 to $4.50 for Los Angeles-based janitors between 1983 to 1986 thanks to the new employment model, according to the SEIU.

In response, the janitors participated in classic labor street rallies and protests, including one in 1990 in Los Angeles when janitors found themselves caught in a showdown with club-wielding policeman, according to the Los Angeles Times. In 2000, the janitors even staged a nationwide protest in which they walked out of commercial office buildings.

But even if the rallies looked like those of any old labor movement, underlying the protests was a social justice philosophy that went beyond conditions at one particular workplace. "We used public events to educate people about the janitors' lives," Schlademan says. "We challenged building owners to not simply throw out a company for employing their own janitors." The Justice for Janitors movement has scored many victories for its workers, according to the SEIU, including the securing of 27 contracts, replete with health benefits, at commercial cleaning contractors in cities like Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles.

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FIGHT FOR A LIVABLE WAGE. Make employers pay for YOUR mistakes in life. It is wal marts fault that you did not get an education or that you started pushing out babies as a teenager. Remember that wal mart is the new welfare plan. Demand your slice of the I am stupid and have noskills welfare pie.

June 11 2013 at 9:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

im talking about wal mart

June 09 2013 at 3:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

its sad that the workers get paid poor wages, while the ceo makes eleven thousand dollars a hour. is that fair

June 09 2013 at 3:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If unions went away more people would have jobs.

January 02 2013 at 10:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

juststeve35 said,
And the salaries of the Union Management?
Stick to facts cbra, your ignorance and bias are astounding
Reply;. I thought that everything I said was the truth and factual.
Now, my bias against the lies being told by the Republicans is something that i CANNOT DEFEND.

December 19 2012 at 8:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Until you have run a business and been responsible for profit and loss, stop telling the world what business owners and CEOs are thinking. You don't know what you are talking aobut.

December 19 2012 at 10:22 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wdcarterjr's comment

wdcarterjr, I do not know who you were addressing your reply; Why do you not tell us what kind of business you are responsible for?
There are many differences in a service TYPE business and a manufacturing business.
Maybe, there are people who do not have a right to comment on "what the CEO'S anthe business people are thinking or the stress they go through in handling all of the details that have to be taken in consideration.
Anybody who has been responsible for working to earn the money necessary to raise a familiy also has periods of stress to make the books balance.
So yes, why do you think that you are alone and other people do not know what is happening or know enough to give an opinion.
Many people start businesses and many businesses fail each year and many households fail each year because of certain reasons. Share some of your information with us.

December 19 2012 at 11:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Clearly Walmart as well as many other retail stores need a strong Union presense. The CEO"s have been laughing all the way to the bank on the backs of their under paid abused employees. The anti-union lies and schemes have been revealed time and again as false nonsense. Vote Union. Its the best for the store and the employees.

December 19 2012 at 5:53 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to laedbac1's comment

no, owners and CEOs have been sitting cash aside as a cushion so our business will not go bankrupt.
at this point we have no idea how much taxes and national healthcare will be costing. millions may sound like a lot of money but when you have thousands of employees you will burn thru the money quite quickly. there are two sides to every idea/story. stop acting as a victim.

December 19 2012 at 6:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you need a secret strategy to trick people into thinking you are a useful asset in their lives, you are not.

December 19 2012 at 12:11 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

If they unionize WalMart I won't be able to afford to shop there.

December 18 2012 at 8:49 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Regina's comment

if they don't the workers won't be able to shop there

December 19 2012 at 2:30 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Here is the burning question Union leaders will not answer........If your organization is sooooo beneficial to workers, WHY do you have to force them to join ???????

December 18 2012 at 8:02 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to goatcars's comment

goatcars, As you well know, as our manufacturing plantshave been closed and production/manufacturing has been reduced here in the USA with the growth of the global economy and the increase of manufacturing jobs out side oth the USA.. Union jobs were lost along with the loss of Union members.
In the 23 "Right to work States" under the conditions of a service based economy and any new industry/manufacturing "implants" turn out to be non union which have salaries and benefits lower than when unions were present.
After this next generation of workers realize the "greed" and lack of employee appreciation and their working without representation and the abilitity of these companies to fire and hire keeping the employee turn over and the wages and benefits at the beginner status, the cycle will eventually change.

December 18 2012 at 10:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cbra958687's comment

with all your great insight and knowledge as to how to prosper did you consider bidding on Interstate Brands? I have read that it is available for purchase, maybe you can continue the bakery worker and teamster union contracts as they were. Oh commodity prices are also down a bit from their summer highs.

December 19 2012 at 12:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

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