Reclaim Democracy has posted a set of three internal Wal-Mart documents from the 1990s detailing the company's internal stance on how to handle unions, union organizers, and disgruntled associates that might be attempting to organize.
- A Manager’s Toolbox to Remaining Union-Free (53 pages, dated 1997)
- Sam’s Club Supervisor’s Handbook (14 pages, not dated)
- Labor Relations and You at Wal-Mart Distribution Center #6022 (44 pages, dated 1991)
I'll summarize the first document, "A Manager's Toolbox to Remaining Union-Free", in the remainder of this post. Note that at all points, bolded text is my own emphasis, not Wal-Mart's. Also, in a few spots I split parts into separate paragraphs for readability.
(Wal-Mart uses big capital letters for emphasis. It's a style choice.)
But to frame the entire document and its contents, I must skip to page 39, where Wal-Mart finally outlines the things you cannot (publicly) do in response to union activity. They refer to it as TIPS,
Know your TIPS. As long as you do not threaten, interrogate, promise, or spy on your
associates, Wal-Mart, through your efforts, will be able to share its views on unionization in an
open, honest and legal manner.
Now, with that policy in mind, let's look at the rest of the document, which is basically a lengthy exploration of ways to subvert the principles enshrined in that legal back-cover.
Right on page one, Wal-Mart wants to make sure it's managers are aware that....
As a member of Wal-Mart's management team, you are our first line of defense against
It is important you be ...
• constantly alert for efforts by a union to organize your associates, and
• constantly alert to any signs your associates are interested in a union.
By way of explaination of their position on unions, they provide their philosophy on unions on page 4, after two pages of information about their Union-Busting Hotline:
Wal-Mart is strongly opposed to third-party representation. We are not anti-union; we are pro-
SECTION THREE: THE OPEN DOOR
(We'd like to pause here to remind you that the manager's door isn't the only one that's open.)
We believe in maintaining an environment of open communication among all associates, both
hourly and management.
At Wal-Mart, we respect the individual rights of our associates and encourage everyone to
express his/her ideas, suggestions, comments or concerns.
Because we believe in maintaining an environment of open communication through the use of
the Open Door policy, we do not believe there is a need for third-party representation. It is our
position every associate can speak for him/herself without having to pay his/her hard-earned
money to a union in order to be listened to and have issues resolved.
On page five, Wal-Mart opines that.....
Wal-Mart's Open Door policy is our greatest barrier to union influences trying to change our
corporate culture and union-free status.
As a member of Wal-Mart's management team, your responsibility is to ensure that "... any
associate, at any time, at any level, in any location, may communicate verbally or in writing with
any member of management up to the president, in ` confidence, without fear of retaliation..."
When an associate uses the Open Door policy, management has a responsibility to listen and
respond. If we do not take care of our associates' needs and concerns, our associates will find
someone who will. And that someone may just be a union representative!
It is important our members of management are always interested in the needs and concerns
of our associates. Make time for positive management/associate relations through the use of
the Open Door policy.
Open communication is the key to stopping a union organizing attempt before it ever gets
I'll say. It's worth pausing here to mention that nowhere
in this document is specific guidance issued to management detailing responses to specific employee grievances common to Wal-Mart, such as aggressive "part-timing", wages, health-care coverage, vacation time, time off for child-care, or other common employment issues.
Because, of course, Wal-Mart is pro-associate, and believes in the employee's right to represent his/herself to the company!
(It's like Free Agency in Major League Baseball, only we have the right to fire you if you ask for something we don't want to give. You like the sound of Free Agency, right?)
Moving on, the manual provides instruction on maintaining employee morale, again without any mention of things employees might actually be upset about. Obviously providing an outlet for employee grievances is more important than actually addressing them.
The document then lists twenty-six different problems that result in low morale that might contribute to a push for a unionization drive. While this list does address things like workplace safety and understaffing --but not overstaffing with sub-full-time help-- it yet again avoids accepting any responsibility for Wal-Mart's aggressively rapacious approach to saving the company money by abusing the social safety net.
This section finishes with ways to make the company seem responsive to employee concerns and grievances......three pages' worth.
And with all the happy/shiny out of the way, it's time to get to the real meat of the document. As of now, we're on page thirteen; basically the entire rest of the document is management responses to union organizing activity, taking pains throughout to list clearly those things which CANNOT be seen to have been done as a response to union organization.
But it starts with Wal-Mart's perception of the FACTS about unionization:
THE FACTS ON UNIONS
(Or: Maybe we should just do a video and have it narrated by Michael Buffer.)
Unions are not a club, sorority, fraternity or social organization. They are a business, a big
(Because if they were truly interested in "helping the worker", they'd do a full-time job for free, right? And totally not because we have legions of lawyers paid handsomely to represent us. Heavens, no: didn't you read our OPEN DOOR POLICY?)
business, that needs to make money. However, unions do not make or sell products. Like any
other company, they, too, must meet their expenses if they are to continue operating.
So where do they get their money? Out of the pockets of their members! A union's income is
received in the form of dues, fees, fines and assessments.
Due to the decline in union membership in recent years, new members are more crucial than
(It can't possibly be because we systematically exploit our help. Don't you know? We're very concerned about your morale. Very concerned.)
ever if unions are going to survive. Wal-Mart is an attractive target for unions because of the
large number of associates we employ.
It is important associates understand the facts about unions. Organizers may promise
(Also, they will totally make you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars before you cross the Bridge to Total Freedom and learn about Xenu.)
associates more money, better benefits... anything... to get them to sign union authorization
cards. It is imperative our associates know what unions can and cannot do for them.
It's worth pausing here to reflect that these words, which could have come from the mouths of 19th century steel barons, are from the 1990s. It's taken just a few decades for a century of progress to be unravelled by bringing these Gilded Age ideas roaring back, with assistance brought by the timely and totally coincidential rise of the Right Wing Media Machine.
UNIONS CANNOT/UNIONS CAN
(If they can't do any of these things, what are we worried about?)
• Guarantee higher wages
• Guarantee better benefits
• Guarantee employment
• Guarantee hours worked
• Prevent terminations
• Set job standards
(Oh, yeah, that.)
• Collect dues, fees, fines and assessments
The next several pages deal with the legal framework under which unions and employers operate, so we'll skip that. We'll pick back up with Wal-Mart's exploration of union organizing tactics, starting with "salting", or the practice of placing an employee with a company with the specific intent to unionize it.
Never mind that these efforts are entirely wasted if management has not created fertile ground. Also noteworthy is that this section on "Salts" gets three pages of love in its own right. For those still reading and keeping score at home, that's more time than was devoted to THE OPEN DOOR, and only one page less than discussing MORALE.
Let's pick back up with Wal-Mart's own words:
(We can't have our Free Agent employees organized, with an understanding of our vulnerabilities. That'd give them.......actual leverage. But why are we worried about the Telxons? Are we concerned that the union wants to do inventory for us?)
THE UNION'S ADVANTAGE
"Salting" is advantageous for the union because the organizer can actually organize the
associates from "inside' the facility. He/she can obtain firsthand knowledge about Wal-Mart and
the associates that a union organizer on the outside would never have access to.
For example, a salt would have access to all locations within the facility; a salt would have
access to all policies and other confidential company information available to associates on CBL
or First Step and shared in daily meetings; a salt would have access to information found on
reports posted throughout the facility concerning our company's goals and strategic objectives;
a salt would have access to our technology, such as telxons; and a salt would have access to
associates' work schedules which can be easily removed from the facility and given to outside
organizers so they can begin visiting associates at their homes to discuss joining a union.
But most importantly, a salt has access to our associates! By being inside the facility, a salt can
(And totally not because those ULPs actually exist. It's all a set-up! We're being framed!)
• easily identify those associates vulnerable to union organizing tactics, and
• easily identify associates he/she wants to recruit as "internal organizers" to help obtain
signatures from co-workers in an attempt to organize the facility.
HOW “SALTS” CREATE
PROBLEMS for WAL-MART
Once inside the facility, a salt's primary objective is to convince associates of the "benefits" of unionization and ultimately obtain their signatures on union authorization cards.
Salts can be harmful to Wal-Mart, not only because of their organizing activities, but also because they typically feel they are "above" company policies. It would not be uncommon for salts to engage in destructive behavior to provoke management into a coaching and/or termination so they can file an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge against the facility.
Now, remember your TIPS? Good, because next, an entire three pages is devoted to the identification and combatting of "salts". I've excerpted this section, obviously:
HOW WAL-MART CAN
(So, to summarize, we don't interrogate and we don't spy, but we are interested in every single job you've ever held all the way back to age 16, and we will be assiduously checking your references to glean information beyond your dates-of-employment and work performance.)
1. Pre-screen as many applicants as possible to ensure you are hiring the most qualified person for any opening you have available.
* The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prohibits an employer from refusing to hire an
applicant because of his/her union affiliation. However, the law does not prevent us from
selecting the most positive, dedicated, enthusiastic applicant available. We are under no
obligation to hire an applicant who is defiant or negative. Keep looking until you find the best
applicant to join our Wal-Mart family.
3. A Wal-Mart application says ... "List entire employment history, starting with present
employer. For any unemployed or self-employed periods, show dates and locations. (Attach
additional sheets when necessary)."
* * * There are only three spaces on the application to list existing or former employers. Ask
applicants if they have completed their entire employment history. If they have not, ask them
to attach additional sheets.
* * * Ensure applications show entire work history with no gaps in employment. If you notice
gaps, question them. Then ask applicants to fill in those gaps.
4. Check references thoroughly. This is a must!
The document continues to provide a Q&A about "Salts". Again, this is excerpted:
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
(Summarizing, again: We don't interrogate, we don't threaten, and we don't spy, but our Union Hotline is intensely interested to the point of expecting immediate contact if you're a union organizer who happens to exist. Also, half of these line-items are totally not just designed to provide justification for doing what we can't talk about wanting to do. You didn't just hear me mumbling about the Hotline, did you?)
Q - Can we ask job applicants about their union affiliation?
A - No. It is illegal to ask applicants their position on unions or whether they have ever been in
Q - What should I do if an applicant volunteers information he/she is a union member?
A - Explain to the applicant his/her union affiliation makes no difference in our hiring procedures. Then just continue to follow your usual hiring practices.
Q - Must we hire a pro-union or paid union organizer?
A - No. The law simply says you cannot discriminate against an applicant because of his/her
union affiliation. Hire the best candidate for the position.
Q -Can we disqualify an applicant who falsifies his/her application?
A -Yes. Regardless of union affiliation, falsifying an application at Wal-Mart will result in
termination or being disqualified from obtaining employment with Wal-Mart.
Q -Can we terminate a salt who works in our facility?
A - Salts, like all other associates, must meet our expectations and are subject to performance
coachings, up to and including termination. We CANNOT terminate an associate because we
believe or have confirmed they are a salt.
Q -If we hire an applicant who is unproductive and also happens to be a salt, can we terminate
A -Yes, as Iong as the reason for termination is based on job performance and not his/her
union affiliation. Be sure you have documentation to support the termination.
If you suspect there is a "salt" in your facility, contact
the Union Hotline at 501-273-8300.
Next up, Wal-Mart's guidance on "Early Warning Signs" for union organization:
EARLY WARNING SIGNS - CATEGORY 1
(So, again, we don't threaten, we don't interrogate, we don't spy, and we have an Open Door, but we're also watching you, listening to you, and not actually hearing anything you say except things we might not like. Also, we're very concerned about your morale, but more interested in stemming what you might do once we've crushed your morale. Because we totally don't do that here.)
• An increase in associate phone calls in and out of the facility.
• Increased curiosity in benefits and policies.
• Associates receiving unusual attention from other associates.
• Abnormal amount of absenteeism.
• Excessive turnover.
• Slowdown in work productivity.
• An increase in errors in associates' work.
• Exit interviews indicating associates are in conflict.
• Surge of complaints by associates against management.
• Associates confront management.
• Associates "bait" management into discipline or termination.
• Abuse of restroom visits.
• Argumentative questions are asked in departmental/facility meetings.
EARLY WARNING SIGNS - CATEGORY 2
• Confidential information being misplaced or removed from files
• "Strangers" spending an unusual amount of time in the associates' parking areas at the
beginning or end of shifts
• Associates spending an abnormal amount of time in the parking lot before and after work
• Frequent meetings at associates' homes
• Associates coming back to the facility to talk to associates on other shifts
• Open talk about unions among associates
• Reports from associates of the union visiting their homes, calling them, or sending them
literature in the mail
• Union literature found around the facility
• Associates using union terms such as arbitration, grievance, and seniority
• Interest in obtaining names and addresses from schedules or associate listings
• Associates leaving work areas on a frequent basis to talk to other associates
• Associates who are never seen together start talking or associating with each other and begin
forming strange alliances
From here, I will let the document speak for itself. Again, the link is here. The remainder of the document basically details union tactics in highlighting Wal-Mart's abuses, and how it can try to turn customers and associates against the union, or otherwise minimize the impact of those activities.
Further attention is paid to what weasel words to use in situations where Wal-Mart is on tenuous legal ground or in a shaky position with regards to their credibility with their employees, devoting fourteen pages discussing The Company Line on how to spread Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt to employees in response to union organizing, while spending several pages more dwelling on Those Things We Cannot Be Seen To Be Doing.
(And goddammit, you didn't tell them about the Hotline, did you?)
One sentence I found especially amusing, pertaining to how management should address any handbills or leaflets union members place on the cars of employees or customers:
• Remove leaflets from the cars. (Hourly associates can assist with this.)
Gee, what do you think that would do to those employees' morale? You'd better start watching them, they might make strange alliances and stand in the parking lot talking to co-workers for more than a few minutes. They could end up becoming union salts!
Gee, if Wal-Mart put half the effort into actually making sure their employees could afford to exist, without needing government assistance, maybe they wouldn't have these problems?
But that's not the point, is it?