On Limbaugh show, AEI scholar Hassett falsely claimed "workers at Wal-Mart haven't voted to be unionized"January 23, 2006 1:39 PM EST ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN
On the January 19 broadcast of the nationally syndicated Rush Limbaugh Show, American Enterprise Institute resident scholar and director of economic policy studies Kevin A. Hassett explained the lack of unionization at Wal-Mart by falsely claiming that "workers at Wal-Mart haven't voted to be unionized." In fact, meat cutters at a Wal-Mart store in Texas voted for union representation only to see Wal-Mart eliminate their department less than two weeks later. Moreover, Hassett's claim ignores the aggressive -- and often illegal -- campaign that Wal-Mart has used to discourage unionization. According to The New York Times, from 1998 to 2002, Wal-Mart racked up 10 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rulings against its anti-union tactics, while NLRB attorneys filed dozens of complaints against Wal-Mart alleging anti-union practices.
It is true that Wal-Mart has successfully hindered the work of labor organizers, who have had little success unionizing Wal-Mart. In some instances, Wal-Mart employees have indeed voted to reject union representation. But Hassett's assertion that "workers at Wal-Mart haven't voted to be unionized" is false.
In February 2000, employees of the meat-cutting department at a Wal-Mart store in Jacksonville, Texas, voted to be represented by the United Food & Commercial Workers union. As The New York Times noted in a June 16, 2003, article, "Eleven days later, Wal-Mart announced plans to phase out meat-cutting operations and use prepackaged meat in that store and 179 others." According to that article, Wal-Mart reassigned the meat cutters to positions as meat stockers and declared that it no longer had to negotiate with the union. The New York Times further reported that in June 2003, an NLRB administrative law judge "ordered Wal-Mart to re-establish the store's meat-cutting department until the company finished bargaining [with the union] over the effects of closing the store's meat-cutting operations."
While the Jacksonville meat cutters are the only Wal-Mart employees who have successfully organized for union representation in the United States, a similar situation occurred in Canada after a majority of workers at a store in Jonquière, Quebec, signed union cards in August 2004. At the time, the Jonquière store was North America's only unionized Wal-Mart store. According to a March 10, 2005, New York Times article, Wal-Mart closed the store in February 2005, claiming, in the Times' words, "skimpy store revenue and escalating union demands."
In a November 8, 2002, article, The New York Times reported that over the previous four years, NLRB attorneys (who are independent from NLRB administrative law judges and board members) had "filed more than 40 complaints against Wal-Mart, accusing managers in more than two dozen stores of illegal practices, including improperly firing union supporters, intimidating workers and threatening to deny bonuses if workers unionized. Of those, the board found illegal practices in 10 cases; 8 cases were settled and the rest are pending."
A November 23, 2003, Los Angeles Times article reported that "dozens of times in the last four years, attorneys for the National Labor Relations Board have claimed that the company infringed on the supermarket union's legal right to organize." The Los Angeles Times noted that some of the NLRB attorneys' complaints were thrown out but also pointed to cases in which NLRB administrative law judges ruled that:
- Wal-Mart illegally influenced employees with offers of raises, promotions, and improved working conditions just before they were to vote on whether to join a union.
- Wal-Mart illegally implied that workers could lose benefits such as insurance and profit sharing if they unionized.
- Wal-Mart managers illegally confiscated union literature, threatened to close down a store if workers voted to join the union, fired several union supporters and failed to promote others.
In a May 4, 2004, article, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that an administrative law judge found Wal-Mart "liable of illegally confiscating union literature at the Henderson [Nevada] store and telling employees to destroy or disregard such literature. The company was also ordered to post a sign informing employees that despite the company's anti-union policy, the company cannot remove union literature or stop employees from organizing a union."
An Associated Press article published on January 19 -- the same day that Hassett appeared on The Rush Limbaugh Show -- noted that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ordered a lower court to "rule on a lawsuit by Wal-Mart workers alleging that the world's largest retailer unfairly threatened to withhold benefits from employees who unionize." According to the AP, Wal-Mart had distributed an employee handbook containing a clause that "said unionized employees were not eligible for profit sharing, 401K and health plans." In 2003, an administrative law court ordered Wal-Mart to remove the clause, which, the court said, was intended "to ensure, to the extent it (Wal-Mart) could, that its employees were fearful of losing their benefits, and thus continued to reject union representation."
Hassett previously addressed Wal-Mart's lack of unionization in a December 19, 2005, Bloomberg column titled "Unions Wage Vicious, Misguided War on Wal-Mart." Referring in that column to union-affiliated organizations such as Wal-Mart Watch and WakeUpWalMart.com, Hassett wrote, "The high-tech goons the unions have sicced on Wal-Mart are employing exactly the types of tactics that have given unions a bad name."
From the January 19 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:
HASSETT: The fact is that the Democratic politicians are basically all resonating the sound bites that -- that are emanating from these NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] that are funded by the unions. And it's a very, very creepy campaign to smear America's largest employer. You know, and if you wonder -- why is it that unionization has declined over time? Well, the reason why Wal-Mart's not unionized is that the workers at Wal-Mart haven't voted to be unionized. And would you vote to let the people in who were basically spending all this money smearing your company? Would you want to have them organize your workplace?