Last week, we documented the mysterious case of WalMart’s move to shutter multiple geographically distinct locations across the US for “plumbing issues.” According to the company, five locations need extensive repairs to fix “clogs and leaks,” a situation which purportedly necessitates that the stores be closed and all workers be laid off (unless of course they can find “placement” at another WalMart location).
That sounded suspect to us and our interest was piqued once we discovered that in fact, no plumbing permits had been issued for work on any one of the shuttered stores. Our contention was that the retailer, facing pressure to retain its “low price leader” title, may be using leaky pipes as an excuse to quietly close stores as it seeks to cut costs in the face of pressure on its margins from a recent across the board wage hike.
Once we dug a bit deeper into the history of the affected stores we noticed that one store in particular — the Pico Rivera, CA location — has been at the forefront of wage and working condition protests for the better part of three years. In fact, employees at the Pico Rivera store staged strikes, pickets, and walkouts in October and November of 2012, in November of 2013, and most recently in November of last year, with the latter episode culminating in the arrest of some two dozen workers. Furthermore, these demonstrations were supported by The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union or, UFCW, which coincidentally dealt the company a bitter defeat in Canada’s Supreme Court last year in the culmination of a decade-old dispute which began when WalMart closed a location in Quebec after workers voted to adopt UFCW as their representative.
Given all of this, and given the company’s efforts to cut costs in the face of pressure to raise wages for its low-paid employees, it didn’t seem entirely unreasonable to ask the following question: Did WalMart close a California store to punish employees who protested wages and working conditions?
Sure enough, the UFCW on behalf of the 2,200 or so employees that have been laid off nationwide is reportedly set to file a National Labor Relations Board claim today seeking an injunction that would require the company to rehire all of the affected workers and alleging that WalMart did indeed close the Pico Rivera location in retaliation for workers’ long-standing position on wages, working conditions, and, ironically, retaliatory actions against employees who raised concerns to management.
Via NY Times:
A group representing Walmart workers laid off after the abrupt closing of five stores last week planned to seek an injunction on Monday from the National Labor Relations Board that would require the retailer to rehire all 2,200 affected workers.
Walmart said that the closings were temporary and were prompted by plumbing issues at the five stores, in California, Texas, Oklahoma and Florida. Officials at the retailer said they would do their best to rehire the workers at other stores or at the five stores once they reopened.
But a claim set to be filed on Monday by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union with the National Labor Relations Board says that the closings were in retaliation for a history of labor activism at one of the shuttered stores, in Pico Rivera, Calif. The union is acting on behalf of Our Walmart, a group that has helped the stores’ workers air their claims, but is not a union itself.
The Pico Rivera store was the site of the first strike at a Walmart store in the United States, in 2012, organized by a workers’ group backed by the union. The strike was over pay and working conditions for the retailer’s hourly wage workers. Since then, store employees have led actions demanding changes to Walmart’s hours and pregnancy policies, access to full-time, consistent work and at least $15 an hour in pay for workers at the retailer’s 4,500 stores across the country.
“Walmart has targeted this store because the associates have been among the most active associates around the country to improve working conditions,” the claim says.
It asks the labor relations board to compel Walmart to immediately rehire all 2,200 associates laid off across the five stores, either by reopening those stores or by transferring workers to other stores without any loss of pay…
So again, we leave it for readers to decide whether WalMart — in an attempt to kill two birds with one stone by eliminating a "problem" store while simultaneously giving an incremental boost to a nationwide cost cutting effort —created a problem which didn't really exist as an excuse to shut the doors, or whether somewhere, deep beneath the now empty California location, the pipes are truly clogged up and leaking:
From WalMart, via the Times:
The retailer may decide to do additional work to remodel the stores, which Walmart called strong performers, ahead of the year-end holiday season. The chain said it had not yet obtained permits for the work because the extent of what might be needed was unclear.
From the UFCW, via Reuters:
"City officials in Pico Rivera say that nothing has been brought to their attention and no permits at all have been sought for any work.”
Meanwhile, in front of the Pico Rivera location...