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Walmart Sues Groups for Protesting Its Poor Working Conditions

"Rather than creating good jobs with steady hours and affordable healthcare, Walmart's pattern is to focus its energies on infringing on our freedom of speech," says defendant

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

The first-ever one-day strike of Walmart workers on Nov. 15, 2012 in Puget Sound. (Photo: OURWalmart via flickr)

In what some see as an attempt to muzzle critics, Walmart is suing a union and other groups over protests that sought to highlight the retail behemoth's low pay and poor working conditions.

The lawsuit targets the 1.3 million-strong United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), OUR Walmart, which is made up of "associates" of Walmart, and another group over repeated protest actions in over a dozen states, Bloomberg reports.

Walmart's suit seeks to stop the groups from being able to picket or protest on its property, Bloomberg reports. Reuters adds:

Wal-Mart alleged that the defendants violated Florida law through coordinated, statewide acts of trespass in several Walmart stores over the last eight months.

What the suit is really about, say some of the defendants, is silencing criticism of Walmart's corporate, and union-preventing, model.

"Rather than creating good jobs with steady hours and affordable healthcare, Walmart's pattern is to focus its energies on infringing on our freedom of speech," Reuters reports OUR Walmart as saying in a statement.

Denise Diaz, executive director of Central Florida Jobs With Justice, said, "This is another attempt on Wal-Mart's behalf of ... silencing their employees and also the communities that support them." 

And Walmart may indeed see OUR Walmart as a thorn in its side, as Andy Kroll writes in Mother Jones:

On Black Friday last year, it helped organize protests at nearly 100 Walmart stores in 46 states. An estimated 500 associates walked off the job on the biggest shopping day of the year. Walmart, already facing allegations of bribery in Mexico and unsafe working conditions at its Asian suppliers, asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to block the protests, saying OUR Walmart was a union front. Store managers received a confidential memo (PDF) on dealing with restive employees (talking point: "I don't think a walkout is a good way to resolve problems or issues, especially because it interferes with customer service and other associates who want to work"). A company spokesman said on national TV that if workers didn't show up on Black Friday, "there could be consequences."

The case, Wal-Mart Stores Inc v. United Food and Commercial Workers International Union et al, merits wide attention, as Josh Eidelson has previously written in The Nation:

Even though Walmart employs just under 1 percent of the American workforce, most of us live in the Walmart economy. Its model has been forced on contractors and suppliers, adopted by competitors and mimicked across industries.

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