By Josh Eidelson, The Nation | June 22, 2013 - This story has been updated to reflect additional terminations, condemnations from members of Congress, and comment from Walmart. The original story appears below the updates.
Update (10:45 AM EST, Monday):The OUR Walmart campaign now alleges that since Friday, Walmart has terminated nine workers who joined this month's strike, and disciplined eighteen others. According to the campaign, two other strikers were terminated during or after the strike but prior to Friday. That makes twenty-nine workers who went on strike this month and were allegedly punished; twenty-six of those strikers were among the hundred-some who traveled to Arkansas.
Reached over e-mail, Walmart spokesperson Kory Lundberg told The Nation, "our decision had everything to do with what was a violation of attendance policy and nothing to do with a specific protest."
Update (4:45 pm EST, Saturday): Of the roughly 100 Walmart workers who this month went on strike and traveled to Arkansas, OUR Walmart alleges that five have been fired, ten have received disciplinary “coachings,” and one has been suspended. Along with Lisa Lopez from Orlando, the other fired workers are from Miami; Chicago; and Lakewood, California. Organizers allege that one of the workers was told directly that the termination was for striking, and that several of the “coachings” were identified as punishment for “unexcused absence” during the strike.
Asked about the firings of Walmart workers who went on strike, Congressman Keith Ellison told The Nation, “One, they are to be expected. Two, they are completely unjust and illegal.” Ellison (DFL-MN), who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, added, “Power concedes nothing without a demand, and if these CEOs at these big companies are reaping ultra-profits out of the hard labor of these workers, they’re not about to give it up easily. So you’re going to have these retaliatory measures.” Ellison urged elected officials “to intervene and to really stick up for the workers,” and said that at the CPC, “we need to be much more engaged” on the issue of workplace retaliation. “Because people shouldn’t have to suffer in silence,” said Eliison, “and if people are willing to step out there, and to risk so much, they shouldn’t be alone.”
Reached by email, Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL) also slammed Lisa Lopez’s termination: “It’s ridiculous that WalMart would fire an employee for bringing WalMart’s own rule book to the job. Whom do they think they are fooling? Would WalMart fire me for bringing the Constitution to work?”
Reached by email Saturday regarding the alleged retaliation, Walmart spokesperson Kory Lundberg said that fired workers Maria Roberty and Jovani Gomez were “terminated for violating the Walmart attendance policy—to suggest otherwise would be wrong and not based in fact.” Lundberg wrote that Lisa Lopez and a co-worker “were both coached recently for committing the same food safety violation at the same time.” Lundberg noted that Lakewood worker Nicole Mora “gave her two-week notice” this week prior to her alleged retaliatory firing.
“Like any company, Walmart has an attendance policy that helps ensure our customers are being taken care of…” wrote Lundberg. “We are applying the attendance policy to individual absences in the same way we do for other associates. There were other associates who participated in these recent union activities [and] did not receive any discipline because their absence in the individual circumstances did not trigger our attendance rules.”
Under US law, it is generally illegal to target workers for discipline because they went on strike, but can be legal to “permanently replace” strikers by filling their positions during the strike and refusing to let them return to work. OUR Walmart contends that its strikes have been “Unfair Labor Practices” strikes in protest of retaliation, a status that provides additional legal protection. Asked about that claim, Lundberg responded, “We evaluate every situation individually, but as a general rule, the law does not protect hit-and-run intermittent work stoppages that are part of a coordinated union plan.”
Two of the workers who’ve been disciplined had previously secured victories after filing charges against Walmart at the National Labor Relations Board, the agency charged with enforcing private sector labor law. Washington State worker Jerry Paladan, whose case led to a notice being posted in his store reiterating employees’ right to speak up about health and safety, has been suspended. Kentucky employee Aaron Lawson, who was previously fired by Walmart but reinstated following an NLRB charge, is among the ten “coached” by management.
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