Expect today to see a barrage of news about Walmart workers protesting low pay at their stores nationwide. The Friday after Thanksgiving is a notoriously slow news day, and turmoil at Walmart just as the Christmas shopping season begins is enough to entice the local TV news crews.
Be extremely skeptical. What you will see is not a spontaneous grassroots protest, but a long-planned, well-organized campaign by Big Labor, which has for years sought to organize the nonunion retail giant’s 1.3 million employees. Note that when a corporation tries something like that, it is derided as an “AstroTurf" campaign.
The main forces behind the protesters are OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart, left-wing nonprofit activist groups purporting to represent disaffected workers. In fact, the National Labor Relations Board recognizes them as subsidiaries of United Food and Commercial Workers, a 1.3 million-member union whose members mainly work for Walmart's rivals, such as Giant, Safeway and Kroger.
The groups were specifically created to circumvent federal labor law and allow UFCW to harass Walmart continually in the hopes of getting its corporate officers to cooperate with unionization, instead of having to stop after 30 days as the law requires.
This is what’s called “top-down organizing” in labor jargon. It’s what unions do when they cannot count on worker support. Most — if not all — of today's protesters won’t even be Walmart associates. A Nov. 25 news release from OUR Walmart proudly announced that at a D.C. protest, a total of … two workers were joining in.
That was the case when the same groups mounted protests at Walmarts last year. Only about 50 associates nationwide joined them. After a series of similar protests in September, local news reports struggled to find just one or two Walmart employees in the crowds. A Denver Post report found that not only were no protesters also employees but that “many of those protesting ... were part of the same coalition that demonstrated against a McDonald's restaurant" the previous week.
So where are the protesters coming from? Many are liberal activists or members of other unions. Others are simply being paid to be there. UFCW was giving Walmart employees $50 gift cards to protest last year, and the NLRB’s general counsel issued an advisory memo on Nov. 15 OK'ing the practice on the grounds that it was akin to allowable “strike pay." (CORRECTION: See below.)
All this is not to say Walmart is above criticism. It does pinch pennies in every way it can, including pay and benefits. And it has been happy to back public policies, like a higher minimum wage and Obamacare's employer mandate, which it can afford but its competitors can not. But the public shouldn't be fooled either. Today's protests are not people power. They are stage-managed by a powerful special interest that benefits directly from bringing Walmart to heel.
CORRECTION: The editorial incorrectly stated that OUR Walmart's $50 gift cards were available "to anyone who showed up, not just strikers" implying that non-Walmart employees could get them. The NLRB memorandum states that the cards were only offered to Walmart employees.