It was a beautiful, warm day in June. Clear blue sky, fresh air. I pulled my car into the parking lot of the hotel. Funny that we always have these meetings at hotels. Something seems sleazy about having company meetings where hookers do business. But we wouldn't want the regular associates listening in, would we?
I rush in and follow the signs to the meeting room. I am relieved, I am not late. Not that I was giddy with anticipation or anything. I just hate walking into meetings that have already started. I see the company has provided doughnuts and coffee, but I don't grab anything. I was on a 3rd shift schedule, so I had been up already, and had had a chance to grab some breakfast. I look around and spot one of my coworkers. Kevin* had been working all night, all the way up to the meeting. I was fortunate, in that I had the night off and could sleep in before the meeting. I would have hated working the night before one of these meetings. They can be so long and monotonous.
While most of the associates in attendance had no idea what the meeting was about, I had a pretty good idea. A few months ago, I was checking on the company intranet to see if I had any "learning modules" to complete. I spotted a module that immediately made the hair on the back of my neck stand up-- "The Employee Free Choice Act". Uh oh, I thought. I clicked on it, and saw that it was not a regular module, but rather a page where you had to confirm you attended a meeting. I told some of my close coworker friends what was up, that we would probably have to attend one of the company's anti-union spiels. We were not looking forward to it, let me tell you. Most of us DESPISED the company, and everything it stood for.
So now, we are at last at the promised meeting. I see that Bill* and Charlie* are going to be leading the meeting/propaganda. Charlie is the local market's HR guy. He handles personnel issues concerning the local area, encompassing 9 stores (the market). Bill is also there. Bill is the actual market manager (IE, everyone's boss, including store managers). Bill is the kind of guy who loves to drop by his stores incognito, walk around for a while, and then find the managers and tell them how shitty they do their jobs. NOT everyone's favorite guy. Now, I like Charlie. He is a good guy, who actually cares about the associates. Whenever one of the associates has a problem with a manager, Charlie swoops in to let the manager know he better treat us right. I consider him to be an ally-- well, as much an ally as any Wal-Mart shill can be. Bill, is an enemy. Whenever he is in a room, you can be sure that bad things will follow.
We start off the with the excruciatingly long introductions. Everyone has to introduce themselves, the store they work at, and the department they supervise. After that, we finally get to the business at hand. Charlie gets right to the point. "How many of you have heard of the Employee Free Choice Act?" If my memory serves me right, no hands went up. I of course, knew what it was. But I didn't want to make it seem like I knew too much. No sense in being the class know-it-all when it might cost me my job down the road. He explains what the act does, changing the way union organizing drives are conducted. This is where Charlie and the truth part ways. From here on out, it's all lies.
The way Wal-Mart likes to scare associates away from organizing is to attack the union itself. In their brainwashing video, they show organizers as slick, professional bullshitters. Sort of like used car salesmen or ambulance-chasing lawyers. You can visualize the stereotype. They then show actors (I wonder if they are SAG actors?) posing as associates in hypothetical situations. In situation A, we are a happy, non-union store. In situation B, the evil union has taken the store over. The first hypothetical situation is about a spill in grocery. One associate asks another to guard a spill while he cleans it up. Ok, a normal everyday occurrence. Then we see what happens when THE EVIL EVIL UNION has taken control. The associate now says "We can't clean this spill, the maintenance workers are under a union contract. Only they are allowed to do this work. Further, for attempting to do this work in violation of the contract, you can be fined up to $20000". Uhhhh, WHAT!?!? I look around the room, to see if the room is actually buying this malarkey. Then in the next situation, the store manager and a supervisor are deciding on who would be a good associate to promote to department manager. No one has ever consulted ME on promotions, but whatever. Then we see what would happen if THE SATANIC BABY EATING UNION were in the store. Now the slimey shop steward is in the meeting, and he vetoes the store manager's suggestion for a promotion. Mr. shop steward then goes to tell the most senior member in the department (who coincidentally is also the most unpopular) that he has the job. Um, yeah sure. I bet if real unions had micromanaging power like that, GM, Ford, and Chrysler would not be up shit creek right now.
After the non-sense is over, Charlie goes into the politics of EFCA. This peaks my curiosity, as Wal-Mart has never discussed politics with the associates in an official capacity, as far as I know. He talks about the gains the Democrats made in the 2006 elections, and how they already tried to get EFCA passed (to help their union friends-- slimey!). The GOP filibustered, and Bush threatened a veto, so EFCA was dead for the moment. But there was a presidential election coming. "Now, I am not here to tell you how to vote. But if the election were to go the wrong way, we may end up having EFCA as the law of the land. Remember that when its time to vote." We all look around at each other. "Is he telling us how to vote?" Kevin asks, with a tint of anger in his voice. I see others whispering to one another. This was clearly controversial with the room. And I can't imagine what the African-Americans in the room must have been thinking, but none of them really spoke up in response. After that, the associates got more vocal. "Why don't you just give us better benefits?" "This is a rich company, why can't you pay the associates more?". Charlie had his pre-recorded talking points ready. Like how we must remain competitive, and other non-sense from the company that pulls in $400 billion in sales globally.
An eternity later (it was actually probably 2 hours), the meeting ends. We all shuffle back to our cars, so we can clock out and get the hell out of there. Some associates are still talking amongst themselves about what just transpired. But what was lingering in my brain was something Charlie said. Something that made my stomach sick. "To combat the union, we are having meetings with every level of the stores. We already had meetings with the salaried managers. We are currently conducting meetings with you supervisors. And soon, we will start having meetings with the hourly associates." I thought about all those hourly associates. People who have spent decades building this company. People who will now be subject to Wal-Mart's bünd meetings. People who have no skills, and so much to lose if they were to be fired. My friends. I felt powerless in that meeting. I wanted to stand up and scream "You are all damned liars and you know it!". But I kept silent. What good would it have done. Now, all over the country, thousands will know the cruelty of Wal-Mart intimidation and union-busting.
That is why it is so important that Congress and President Obama pass the Employee Free Choice Act. No one should have to live their lives feeling defeated and powerless. No one should have to hold their head low just to feed their families. This is not just about fair pay and health insurance. Its about dignity. Its about respect. Its about being able to go to work, without having to be afraid anymore.
Names with asterisks were changed to protect people's anonymity (especially mine). I no longer work for Wal-Mart. I have since moved on (thank God) and can now feel safe telling my story. Thank you for reading.