Workers sue Walmart for retaliatory store closings

Today Walmart workers with OUR Walmart filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board in response to what they say are Walmart’s retaliatory closings of five stores. The workers filing the charges were employed at the now-closed Pico Rivera Walmart store in Los Angeles.

Last week, Walmart abruptly closed five Walmart stores in four states just hours before tens of thousands of low wage workers, including Walmart workers, began the largest one-day strike of low wage workers in American history.

Walmart said that at the Los Angeles store and at other stores the reason for the closures was  plumbing problems, not retaliation for worker organizing, as workers are claiming.

“They say it is plumbing, that they are having a national plumbing crisis,” Denise Barlage, 56, a nine-year veteran worker at the Pico-Rivera store told the People’s World last Wednesday. Barlage talked about the closing as she rallied in front of a McDonald’s store in LA during the national strikes and protests staged by low-wage workers. “But we know better than what Walmart says is the reason they shut down,” she said. “It is no accident that they shut down our store which has been a one of the most successful centers for organizing by OUR Walmart members.

“We are not going to let this go withourt a fight,” she added. Barlage is currrently among a group of women staging a 15-day hunger strike at LA’s City Hall, demanding a $15 minimum wage.

The Pico Rivera store at which Barlage was employed is highly symbolic to the low-wage worker movement. It was the first Walmart store to go on strike in October, 2012. It was also the location of the first sit-down strike by Walmart workers and many of its employees participated in civil disobedience actions in the weeks prior to the last Black Friday demonstrations.

City officials at all five locations say Walmart has obtained no permits to begin repairs in any of the closed stores. Walmart itself has failed to offer any evidence of a plumbing emergency that would require the immediate closing of five stores just as strikes and protests were getting underway across the nation.

“This is a new low, even for Walmart,” said Venanzi Luna, an eight-year Walmart worker and long-time OUR Walmart member. “It’s just so heartless to put thousands of your employees out of a job with no clear explanation on just a few hours’ notice. We know that Walmart is scared of all we have accomplished as members of OUR Walmart so they’re targeting us. Through OUR Walmart, we’re going to keep fighting back until the company gives us our jobs back. It’s unfortunate that Walmart has chosen to hurt the lives of so many people, just to try to conceal their real motives of silencing workers just like they’ve always done.”

Workers are asking the National Labor Relations Board to seek injunctive relief under section 10j of the National Labor Relations Act. They are calling on the National Labor Relations Board to compel Walmart to rehire all of the workers who were terminated in all five stores and reinstate them to their own stores or transfer them without loss of pay until they can be reinstated to their stores. A 10j injunction is designed to allow the court to act quickly to remedy such extreme violations without the long delay which is anticipated for NLRB proceedings.

As the filing notes, this is not the first time Walmart has taken dramatic action to quell worker action. In June of 2014, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that Walmart had violated labor law when it closed the Jonquiére, Quebec Walmart store. The workers in that store had voted to join a union, becoming the first unionized store in North America just before it closed. In 2000, butchers in a Jacksonville, Texas Walmart voted to join UFCW Local 540. Two weeks later, Walmart closed its 180 meat departments in stores nationwide and switched to prepackaged case- eady meat only. More recently, Walmart fired and disciplined more than 70 workers who participated in strikes in June 2013. An Administrative Law Judge of the NLRB has found merit to claims against Walmart and additional claims are currently being prosecuted by the General Counsel of the NLRB against Walmart.

Community members and elected officials have also come out in support of Walmart workers. The El Rancho Unified School District, in which the Pico Rivera store is located, will vote on a resolution in support of the laid off Pico Rivera Walmart workers. The resolution “calls on Walmart to consider the economic hardship their decision has caused for their 530 associates from the Pico Rivera store and their families and commit to transfer all of the Associates to surrounding Walmart stores before new people are hired to fill positions in those stores…”

Other community members are calling attention to the impact of Walmart’s actions on their neighborhoods, congregations and communities.

“It is a scandal against all that is righteous, though it is unfortunately not surprising, that Walmart, the economic Pharaoh who cannot see workers as people but only as expense lines, has again decreed unemployment and poverty and suffering on 530 workers here, and similar numbers in four other stores,” said local Rabbi Aryeh Cohen. “In November, I joined other clergy and community leaders and workers in an act of civil disobedience to support the brave workers who sat down and struck in order to stand up with dignity. We then demanded $15 an hour and access to full employment. Today our demands have not changed. However, we also demand that Pharaoh rehire all 530 workers, give them priority before hiring other workers for less pay, and support the fired workers beyond the mandated 60 days.”

Workers promised that they would continue to fight the company’s retaliatory closures with bold action until the company meets their calls for reinstatement, transfer with equal pay and compensation in the interim and finally, the opportunity to return to their stores when they reopen.

“Allowing Walmart to get away with such a blatant attack on the rights of workers’ in our community would open the door for any employer to simply develop ‘plumbing issues’ whenever workers stood up for change in their workplace,” said SEIU 721 Chief of Staff Gilda Valdez. “We need to send a message to Walmart and all employers that in our community, the rights of working people must be respected. That’s why we’ll continue to stand with Walmart workers as they fight to get back to work and for change at the world’s largest private employer.”

John Wojcik contributed to this story.

Photo: Denise Barlage and others who lost their jobs when Walmart shuttered the Pico Rivera store don’t believe company claims that the shut-down was forced by plumbing problems.  |  Blake Deppe/PW


Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.