Walmart Files Trespass Lawsuits Against Protesters
Labor groups responded by filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, calling Walmart's move an illegal attempt to silence speech. That just added to the pile of over 30 allegations of unfair labor practices that OUR Walmart has made against the store in the past month, and is the latest in an ongoing tug-of-war between Walmart and labor groups and activists.
By law, worker groups are not allowed to engage in more than 30 days of picketing aimed at getting union recognition, and Walmart filed a complaint with the NLRB accusing the UFCW of doing just that in November 2012. In January, the UFCW pledged not to try to unionize workers, and the union claims that it only seeks to improve the lot of Walmart's 1.4 million U.S. associates. But Walmart is clearly still ruffled by the ongoing rallies, and is now using the courts to physically ban union organizers from its stores.
"This kind of overreach I haven't seen before," says Erin Johansson, the research director of the advocacy group American Rights at Work, "and for me it's very disconcerting."
But organizers see it as straight-up intimidation. Denise Diaz, executive director of a workers-rights coalition, Central Florida Jobs With Justice, says that she was eating breakfast at home with her 4-year-old child when Walmart served her with a lawsuit, accusing her of trespassing. On one occasion last year, she entered an Orlando Walmart with a group of other advocates to deliver a letter to its manager, requesting that he hire back a worker that Diaz believes was unjustly fired.
"We were really just rational concerned community folks," she says, "having a conversation with the manager."
"What [Walmart is] really concerned about is not where [OUR Walmart or the UFCW] are supposed to be, which is the essence of trespass," says George Wiszynski, a senior attorney at the UFCW. "They're concerned what we're saying when we're there."
Walmart customer service manager Derek Flout recounted an incident that he said happened in October 2012. In an interview with Flout (while Walmart spokesman Fogelman listened on the line), Flout said that protesters conducted a "register dump" at his store in Rogers, Ark., checking out merchandise, and then deciding that they didn't want it, forcing him and his co-workers to put it all back. "It's kind of ironic," he said, "that they're making it harder for associates."
Two protesters who said that they were present that day flatly denied Flout's account. "We used a couple of buckets for percussions," says Eddie Iny, a UFCW campaigner. "And I saw people putting buckets back. People really wanted to get their message across and be respectful at the same time."
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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