Business

Unions increasing strikes post-election

Several hundred workers from Wal-Mart stage a walkout and protest in front of the Pico Rivera, Calif., store in October. Unions are taking a stand as thousands of workers across the U.S. are striking and walking out of jobs rather than accept pay and benefit changes. (File)
Several hundred workers from Wal-Mart stage a walkout and protest in front of the Pico Rivera, Calif., store in October. Unions are taking a stand as thousands of workers across the U.S. are striking and walking out of jobs rather than accept pay and benefit changes. (File)

They’re fed up, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

That’s the case for thousands of employees across the country who are striking and walking out of jobs rather than accept changes to their pay and benefits. It might be a shot in the arm for a labor movement that had been left for dead but saw big gains in the November election as voters elected pro-labor candidates.

The number of union-related work stoppages involving more than 1,000 workers, which reached an all-time low of just five in 2009, rose to 13 this year as of October. And unions aren’t done yet.

Nurses are striking this week at hospitals operated by Sutter Health in California; workers voted against concessions at Hostess Brands Inc., forcing the company’s hand; pilots at American Airlines are wreaking havoc on the airline’s schedule as it tries to cut pension and other benefits.

“There’s a lot of agitating going on,” said Julius Getman, a labor expert at the University of Texas. “People are unhappy. They feel that they’re not being well-treated. There is a swelling of annoyance at the rich.”

This week, labor faces a pivotal test of just how strong this movement is, with a group called Our Walmart asking associates to strike at stores across the country during the retailer’s busiest days of the year.

The group says it is protesting Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s retaliation against workers who seek to unionize. It wants to get the corporation to sit down with the group and listen to workers’ complaints.

“There comes a time when you have to stand up and you have to fix what is broke, and Wal-Mart is broken,” said Evelyn Cruz, 41, who works at a Wal-Mart in Pico Rivera, Calif., and walked off the job there Tuesday.

Cruz says the company has cut staff so that her department has half the number of people it once did, and that Wal-Mart gives poor shifts or fewer hours to the people who complain. She was one of a handful of workers who participated in the first strike in the company’s history in October.

Wal-Mart, for its part, says it does not expect the protests to disrupt business, and that most of its employees are happy at their jobs.

“The fact is, our pay and benefits plans are as good or better than our retail competitors, including those that are unionized,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Kory Lundberg said in an email.

The Bentonville, Ark., retail titan last week filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, seeking an injunction to stop the protests.

That’s unlikely to make a difference with the protests. Our Walmart filed a complaint in response Tuesday, accusing Wal-Mart of trying to deter workers from participating in the strikes.

Labor actions usually occur in clusters, and big turnouts today could prompt others to take action, Getman said.

“If there really is turmoil at Wal-Mart on Friday, it will set in motion a lot of other protests,” Getman said. “There will be a sense of, ‘Well, they did it; why shouldn’t we?’”



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