The following is an excerpt from the new book The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America by Rick Wartzman. Copyright © 2017. Available from PublicAffairs, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc. Also available for purchase from Amazon and IndieBound.
One reason that Wal-Mart workers have always had difficulty improving their lot is that they’ve never been able to form a union. At its core, Wal-Mart’s rationale for being against organized labor was not unlike that of Kodak, say, or General Electric under Lem Boulware: management had an open door policy, by which any worker could ostensibly walk in and discuss anything. Therefore, as Wal-Mart laid out in its “Manager’s Toolbox to Remaining Union Free,” “we do not believe there is a need for third-party representation. It is our position every associate can speak for him/herself without having to pay his/her hard-earned money to a union in order to be listened to and have issues resolved.”
Yet unlike Kodak, which tried to frustrate union organizers by keeping its workers happy with good wages and princely benefits, Wal-Mart has been reliably ungenerous. And unlike GE, which fought tooth and nail against the International Union of Electrical Workers but ultimately honored its right to exist, Wal-Mart has never allowed so much as a single one of its stores to be organized. Indeed, ever since Mr. Sam’s time, the company has done everything it can to crush the unions, painting them in the most Manichean terms. They are “nothing but blood-sucking parasites living off the productive labor of people who work for a living!” said attorney John Tate, an iron-willed right-winger whom Walton had hired to help beat back the Retail Clerks in the early 1970s and who then stuck around at Wal-Mart where he developed an array of antiunion techniques.
In the early 1980s, when the Teamsters attempted to represent employees at two Wal-Mart distribution centers in Arkansas, Walton himself showed up with a warning—US labor law be damned. Recalled one worker: “He told us that if the union got in, the warehouse would be closed. ... He said people could vote any way they wanted, but he’d close her right up.” The Teamsters lost the election.
But it wasn’t just top executives who were expected to resist being organized. “Staying union free is a full-time commitment,” read a manual given out at a Wal-Mart distribution center in Indiana in 1991, the year before Walton died. “Unless union prevention is a goal equal to other objectives within an organization, the goal will usually not be attained. The commitment to stay union free must exist at all levels of management—from the chairperson of the ‘board’ down to the front-line manager. Therefore, no one in management is immune from carrying his or her ‘own weight’ in the union prevention effort. The entire management staff should fully comprehend and appreciate exactly what is expected of their individual efforts to meet the union free objective. The union organizer is a ‘potential opponent’ for our center.”
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