Labor Walkouts Hit Walmart

In labor actions that union leaders called the first ever strike against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) and that company officials called a "publicity stunt," employees at 28 of the company's stores in 12 states have staged protests over the past few days and have threatened more protests for Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and traditionally the busiest retail shopping day of the year.

The number of employees involved is quite small, however, totaling just 63 at a Los Angeles store last week and 88 at 12 stores yesterday. Walmart employs 1.4 million people in the United States and operates more than 4,500 stores in the country.

The job actions were organized by a group called Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart, a group affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, according to a report at The New York Times.

Employees walked off their jobs yesterday in Dallas, Seattle, Miami, Sacramento, Orlando and both the Chicago and Washington D.C. metropolitan areas. The principal issue is company retaliation against employees who complain about working conditions. OUR Walmart seeks to have the company raise wages, stop cutting workers' hours and treat the employees with respect, according to a union spokesman.

A Walmart spokesman told the NYT:

It's no secret that the unions want to organize our associates. These protests are union-led and union-funded by unions that are trying to further their own political and financial agenda.

Walmart has beaten back any number of attempts to unionize its employees, and a betting person would think the company will continue to do so. Walmart closed a store in Canada in 2005 when employees at the store authorized a union, and at another store in Quebec employees decertified the union last year after two years of fruitless negotiations with the company.

Walmart's shares are up 2.7% at $76.11 after posting a new 52-week high of $76.39 earlier today. The prior range was $54.48 to $75.55.

Paul Ausick