Monday, 26 March, 2001

WalMart vs UFCW

I've always been suspicious of union organizing efforts, and the recent activity by the United Food and Commercial Workers in Las Vegas strengthens my conviction that union organizers are more interested in power than in any type of "fairness."  The UFCW started this action last summer by pressing the Clark County Commission and area cities to prevent Wal-Mart from opening their Supercenter stores.  When that didn't work, the union organized a picketing campaign aimed at keeping people from shopping at Wal-Mart.  That didn't work either, so now they're trying to get Wal-Mart employees to hold a union election.  It's a tough go, in part because Wal-Mart has a high employee turnover rate (around 50%), and in part because long-time Wal-Mart employees actually like the company's policies.  Unions have been trying to organize Wal-Mart workers for years.  It looks to me like the UFCW is eyeing the 850,000 nationwide Wal-Mart employees as a way to breathe new life into their sagging membership.  Wal-Mart is a tough nut to crack, though.  Unions have been trying for years to organize Wal-Mart workers, and to date have failed completely except for some meat cutters in one or two stores.

I've seen the UFCW do this one time before:  in Grand Junction, CO in the early 1980s.  The UFCW had a lock on the local supermarkets (Safeway and City Market) until a new County Market came in offering a larger selection and better prices.  The UFCW's organizing campaign was astounding, and when the first election failed they stepped up the negative ads and started picketing the new store.  I, of course, made a point of tweaking their noses by crossing the picket line every day.  Mind you, this wasn't County Market employees picketing for better pay or anything:  it was UFCW members picketing the store because the employees choose not to have the union represent them.  Not that I would have respected the picket line if it was the employees. 

The primary interest of unions today appears to be maintaining their power rather than protecting the workers that they claim to represent.  A union today is like any other large bureaucracy:  those in power have a vested interest in keeping the union strong so that they don't have to go find honest work.  The union remains in power, not because it provides for its members, but because new employees are required to abide by union rules even if they choose not to become members.  And if they choose not to join the union, they are discriminated against by the union representatives and the pro-union employees.  By placing seniority over performance, and refusing to tie benefits to realistic production, quality, or profit goals, unions promote mediocrity at the expense of their members, their employers, and their customers.  It's little wonder that Americans today are increasingly anti-union.