Workers’ Correspondence

Union busting has become so important to Wal-Mart, the nation’s biggest corporate fat cat, that it is offering to pay clerks and cashiers who sign up to work at its new “superstore” in Riverdale, N.J., $2 an hour more than the starting rate at the surrounding unionized stores.

Those who get the jobs, however, will have no comparable health benefits and no job protection and will face wage rollbacks and layoffs as Wal-Mart begins to put surrounding competitors out of business.

Local 464A of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) has been leading the charge against Wal-Mart here in northern New Jersey.

When the local picketed the Wal-Mart outlet on Route 46 in Lodi recently, hundreds of UFCW members from nearby ShopRites, A&Ps and Stop and Shops surrounded the store and handed out leaflets to customers leaving and entering the store. Teamsters and other union drivers stopped their trucks and rigs on Route 46, blowing their horns in approval.

Wal-Mart locked its employees in, forbidding anyone from going outside the store to talk to union members demonstrating outside.

UFCW members were nevertheless able to get inside the store and give literature to the workers, many of whom folded and pocketed the papers despite continual orders from management over the intercom not to take any of the material.

Two members of the town council who were shopping in the store at the time went to the manager’s office to complain about the locking in of the employees.

The tactic of paying higher wages at the new neighboring Wal-Mart in Riverdale results, of course, from all of the union actions against Wal-Mart including the one on Route 46.

The northern New Jersey actions follow some notable ones around the country.

Early one October 2006 morning, 200 workers at a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., walked out of their store to protest new unfair policies at the store.

Over the last year, Wal-Mart had cut the percentage of full-timers, cut management and worker positions, cut hours, imposed salary caps, eliminated health care and imposed outrageous attendance policies.

They had imposed an “open availability” schedule, which compelled workers to be available for shifts around the clock.

Workers found themselves working different hours each day — unable, for example, to pick up children after school. Part-timers could not keep second jobs because they could be called to Wal-Mart at any time.

In addition, an internal document leaked at that store indicated that the company was exploring ways to get rid of not only full-timers but also “unhealthy” employees who were considered “too expensive.”

The Hialeah Gardens walkout was the first time that Wal-Mart workers had ever revolted on such a large scale.

Nearly every employee stood outside the store shouting, “We want justice!”

The company was forced to withdraw its attendance policy.

The fight pays off.

— John P. Wojcik West Milford, N.J.