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USA: Wal-Mart denies workers basic rights

Wal-Mart's ruthless exploitation of weak labor law in the United States is frustrating union formation and violating the rights of its American workers, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 210-page report "Discounting Rights: Wal-Mart's Violation of US Workers' Right to Freedom of Association" describes that while many US companies are using weak labor laws in the US to discourage workers from forming unions, The retail giant stands out for the extent and aggressiveness of its anti-unionism. Much of his anti-union activities are lawful in the US, even if taken together they undermine workers' rights. Others violate so-called "soft law" in the USA.

"Wal-Mart workers have virtually no chance to unite as they face unfair US labor law and a huge company that would do just about anything to suppress union formation," said Carol Pier. Senior Researcher in the Labor Law and Commerce Department at Human Rights Watch. "This knockout combination destroys workers' right to form and join unions."

Wal-Mart’s behavior is particularly worrying given that it is the second largest company in the world. Wal-Mart's income for the fiscal year ended January 2007 was $ 315.65 billion and profits were $ 11.2 billion. Wal-Mart is the largest private employer with 1.3 million workers and nearly 4,000 stores nationwide. None of these workers are represented by a union. Human Rights Watch found this to be no accident.

Human Rights Watch research has revealed that, for the most part, Wal-Mart seeks to indoctrinate workers and managers into rejecting unions once they are hired. Managers were given specific instructions to keep unions out. Many of these instructions can be found in the company's so-called "Manager's Toolbox," a manual for managers on "How to stay unionized when unionists have their sights on the company."

If workers attempt to band together, managers must report this to the Wal-Mart union hotline at headquarters. The company responds by almost immediately dispatching its Labor Relations team (team dealing with the employer-employee relationship) to defeat any attempt to merge.

Most of the tactics used by the Labor Relations Team involve weak US laws. The team members hold meetings in small and large groups, meetings of a so-called "extradited audience". Participation is expressly suggested to the workers. They are told the dire consequences of unionizing, which is underpinned by dramatic videos. Wal-Mart wraps its workers in an anti-union mantra and gives union supporters and founders little opportunity to respond. Under US law, Wal-Mart doesn't have to either.

"Employers can voice their anti-union attitudes loud and clear in the workplace and prevent union representatives from entering company premises," Pier said. “It is hardly a question of a free and democratic electoral climate; in any political context this would be called unfair. "

Wal-Mart's relentless anti-union drumming creates a climate of fear in Wal-Mart stores in the United States. Many workers fear dire consequences if they should form a union. This is partly because they do not hear any anti-union views. Many also fear retaliation or even dismissal if they challenge their powerful employer.

Human Rights Watch found that Wal-Mart fueled this fear with an arsenal of illegal anti-union tactics. Wal-Mart sent its managers out to eavesdrop on the employees. Former shop workers and managers have testified that surveillance cameras have even been ordered to be reinstalled to monitor union supporters. Workers were told that if they join a union they would lose grants. The company has banned unions and dissemination of union information in a discriminatory manner while allowing discussion of other topics and dissemination of anti-union material. Wal-Mart fined union supporters for policy violations that were overlooked by union opponents. In addition, workers were illegally fired for union activity.

According to American labor law, the penalties are so low that they are hardly a deterrent. Wal-Mart only receives a small pat on the wrist for illegal behavior. In most cases, it is enough for the guilty employers to publish an internal company notice promising to comply with the law in the future. In addition, they must restore their pre-offense status by, for example, reinstating workers who were wrongly fired and paying them lost earnings. You will not face any fines or penalties.

Denied the right to form unions, workers at Wal-Mart have no opportunity to band together to voice their concerns that the company may lay off long-term employees. There is no way to address issues of how to get on with Wal-Mart's salaries or end the inflated health insurance bills.

The US Congress could significantly improve workers' right to union membership if it passed the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which the Bush administration would then of course have to ratify. The EFCA was passed by the US House of Representatives in March and is now up for discussion in the Senate. It would increase the penalties for violations of labor law and help establish a democratic union selection process in which employers would have to recognize a union if the majority of workers so wish. Currently, employers can force union elections and then the workers during the
Intimidate election campaigns with their anti-union attitudes.

Human Rights Watch has also urged the federal labor relations agency, which is responsible for compliance with US labor law, to issue more restraining orders on serious misconduct by employers, especially repeat offenders like Wal-Mart.

Human Rights Watch has urged Wal-Mart to cease all actions, legal and illegal, that undermine workers' right to unionize. As an industry leader, Wal-Mart is supposed to go one step further and commit to neutrality with regard to union formation.

For the report, Human Righst Watch interviewed 41 current and former Wal-Mart employees and managers in stores in the United States that had been unionized since 2000. Some of them supported the union, some opposed it, and others were divided on their attitudes. Human Rights Watch has also contacted Wal-Mart three times and requested meetings to learn the company's perspective. Wal-Mart declined to meet and gave very limited responses.

"Wal-Mart needs to change its anti-union behavior," said Pier. "When companies like Wal-Mart regularly violate workers' right to unionize, they are jeopardizing a fundamental right that the government is obliged to uphold."