WASHINGTON - January 23 - A hilarious Flash cartoon exposing Wal-Mart’s ruthless anti-union campaign has been viewed over 125,000 time and discussed on over 60 blogs in the week since its launch by workers’ rights advocate, American Rights at Work. And in a timely “life-imitating-art” twist, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that a case examining such practices of the world’s largest employer can move forward.
The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas will examine Wal-Mart’s implementation of an employee benefits plan that prohibited those who sought union representation from receiving coverage. The union exclusion clause, printed in benefits materials that were circulated to thousands of Wal-Mart employees across the country, stated that “union represented associates are not eligible for coverage.” At stake were healthcare benefits, 401k, and profit sharing opportunities. In 2003, an Administrative Law Judge with the National Labor Relations Board found this practice an illegal violation of workers’ rights to form unions. “[The language] is not a very subtle threat to its employees that something unpleasant will happen to them if they organize, namely the loss of company benefits,” said the judge. Although Wal-Mart has ceased using this tactic, it continues its systematic anti-union activity.
“Our cartoon comically dramatizes a serious problem at Wal-Mart that needs public scrutiny and legal intervention,” says David Bonior, Chair of American Rights at Work. “When Wal-Mart employees stand up for themselves and try to form a union, they often face threats, propaganda, discrimination, intimidation, and even firings and retaliation.”
The Flash video, “Friends with Low Wages,” features the likeness of Garth Brooks and parodies his 1990 hit “Friends in Low Places.” It can be viewed at http://WalMartWorkersRights.org.
In the cartoon, Brooks, whose music is now distributed exclusively by Wal-Mart gets the chance to learn the truth about how Wal-Mart treats its workers. And the singer, who’s known to champion the little guy in his music, doesn’t like what he sees. “Just like Garth, most Americans don’t know that Wal-Mart’s over-the-top unionbusting antics prevent workers from forming unions to address their mistreatment,” says Bonior.
In addition to the alleged use of the union exclusion clause, Wal-Mart’s efforts to stop workers from forming unions in its stores are swift and overwhelming:
- The company taps into calls and emails from stores around the country to monitor whether anyone is talking about forming a union.
- Store officials receive a toolkit, “Remaining Union Free,” and are encouraged to call a hotline at the first sign of any employee interest in a union.
- Wal-Mart dispatches a rapid-response anti-union squad at any indication of its employees considering union formation.
The cartoon is the latest effort by American Rights at Work to expose workers’ rights violations at Wal-Mart and in other U.S. workplaces. In November, the group released “WAL-MART: Rolling Back Workers’ Wages, Rights, and the American Dream,” a report offering a comprehensive examination of the company’s abysmal labor standards, including poor compensation, difficult working conditions, and a combative strategy to remain union-free.
“We hope that the cartoon encourages the public, lawmakers, and our judicial system to find out the truth about Wal-Mart’s unionbusting ways and act to end its ruthless, unlawful tactics,” Bonior concludes.