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International Transport Workers’ Federation: Walmart warning

21 November 2012

ITF delivers Walmart warning

ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) ship inspectors have been visiting ships carrying Walmart cargoes this week to pass on warnings that the company may be experiencing industrial action in the run up to Christmas. The ITF is asking captains and companies working with Walmart to raise with it widespread concerns about the retail giant’s treatment of its US staff.

Industrial action is likely among Walmart workers on Friday November 23, which is known as ‘Black Friday’, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday in the USA.

The move by the global union federation is in support of five US organisations campaigning for justice for Walmart workers: Making Change at Walmart, OUR Walmart, UNI Global Union Walmart Alliance, Warehouse Workers United, and Warehouse Workers for Justice*. They charge the company with paying poverty wages and dragging down pay and work conditions.

ITF acting general secretary Steve Cotton commented: “Walmart is a major customer of the shipping industry, and we feel it is important that transport companies – with whom we strive to build the same kind of collaborative industrial relations we would like to see Walmart embrace – are aware of potential industrial disruption.”

He continued: “We are seriously concerned by Walmart’s attitudes towards its workers. It has been widely reported that workers in its warehouse and retail operations have been subject to firings, threats to terminate employment, and reduced hours.”

The letter that has been delivered to ships this week by ITF inspectors says:

Dear Captain,

The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) is a Global Union Federation of 780 transport trade unions who collectively represent over 4.6 million workers worldwide.

We wish to bring to your attention a serious matter regarding Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., which has been reported to engage in unlawful retaliation against workers employed in their US retail and warehouse operations.

As Walmart cargo is carried by your company, you may wish to inform your management of these developments – particularly as there are reports of planned industrial disruptions in Walmart’s retail and warehouse operations in the upcoming Christmas holiday period. Your company may also be concerned about violations of labour rights and wish to raise this with Walmart.

Regarding the details of the matter, the ITF has learnt from its sister federation, UNI Global Union, that Walmart has retaliated against members of OUR Walmart, Warehouse Workers United, and Warehouse Workers for Justice when they have attempted to raise the following issues:
• Freedom of association
• Safe workplaces with safe equipment
• Provision of a policy manual for every employee, equal enforcement of policy and no discrimination
• Dependable and predictable work schedules
• Provision of affordable healthcare
• Wages and benefits that ensure that no employee has to rely on government assistance.

Reports show that workers raising these issues have been subject to unlawful firings, threats of employment termination, and reduced hours. These actions are thought to involve violations of both US law and ILO International Labour Standards. Walmart’s alleged retaliation also comes in the context of persistent wage and working hours violations. Since December 2008, the company has been involved in class action settlements and verdicts totaling US$1.18 billion (including a $187.6 claim currently under appeal).

The ITF is very concerned about the reported actions of Walmart against its workers. Walmart is a major customer of many companies across the shipping, ports, and contract logistics sectors, where numerous members of ITF affiliated unions work. The ITF believes the positive industrial relations between employers and unions in many of these companies sets a standard to which Walmart should aspire.

We would therefore like to draw the attention of your company to this serious situation.

Thanking you in solidarity,

More information

Walmart is the largest company in the world. It has 2.2 million employees in 28 countries. Only the US Department of Defence and China’s People’s Liberation Army are bigger. Walmart has grown by driving down costs and working conditions, and is strongly anti-union. Former executive John Tate, an influential figure in the company’s history, said “labor unions are nothing but blood sucking parasites”.

Walmart workers in the US are fighting for a fair deal. Retail and warehouse workers are demanding the right to collectively organise, fair wages, and affordable health care. The US remains the largest part of Walmart’s business, with 1.4 million workers.

This is the first large scale union organising by workers in Walmart’s history. In September there were strikes in Walmart warehouse operations in Los Angeles and Chicago. And October saw the first ever strikes in US Walmart stores, with workers in 28 stores walking out in protest over their conditions and unfair labour practices.

*OUR Walmart: http://forrespect.org
Warehouse Workers United: www.warehouseworkersunited.org
Making Change at Walmart: www.makingchangeatwalmart.org
UNI Global Union Walmart Alliance: www.uniglobalunion.org/Blogs/walmart.nsf
Warehouse Workers for Justice: www.warehouseworker.org

About the ITF
The ITF is a global union federation representing around four and a half million transport workers worldwide. Unions – currently 708 from 154 countries – affiliate to the ITF, which is able to carry their interests into the global arena.

ENDS

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