Workers for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, trekked to the Capitol in Washington Thursday to urge passage of legislation that would make it easier for them to form a union.
The group of about 75 workers from 17 states, backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers and the labor federation Change to Win, said they are paid too little, offered health care that costs too much and stymied in efforts to unionize.
“Wal-Mart does not pay one cent to our health-care benefits,” Cynthia Murrey, of Laurel, Md., said at a press conference before meetings with lawmakers. “Wal-Mart has made $13 billion in profit, we need a union.”
The UFCW has intensified organizing efforts at Wal-Mart, the largest U.S. private employer, since the election of President Barack Obama, who supports the so-called card-check measure introduced last month. The union is also lobbying for the bill, formally known as the Employee Free Choice Act, which is organized labor’s top legislative goal this year.
Wal-Mart opposes the legislation, which would let workers bypass an election and form a union if a majority signs cards requesting one. Currently, employers can demand a secret-ballot election before their companies are unionized.
“We continue to hear great things from our 1.4 million associates, and the large majority tells us they enjoy their job,” Daphne Moore, a company spokeswoman, said in a phone interview Thursday. “Looking at all we offer, many of our associates just don’t seem to feel that union membership would be a better deal.”
The company said last month it plans to award $2 billion in bonuses, profit sharing, discounts and 401(k) and stock-plan contributions to about 1 million hourly U.S. workers this year. Altogether, Wal-Mart spent $6 billion last year on employee benefits, including health-care coverage, Moore said.
Wal-Mart, which reported $13.4 billion in net income for the year ended Jan. 31, fell 5 cents to $50.40 in Thursday trading. The company has declined 10 percent this year.
A Citigroup Inc. analyst downgraded Wal-Mart to ‘hold’ from ‘buy’ on the day the bill was introduced in Congress last month, saying the retailer would be the primary target of union organizing efforts if it passed. That would increase labor costs and may limit expansion, Deborah Weinswig, the analyst, said.
The Wal-Mart workers and labor groups are focusing their efforts on Democratic senators who have said they won’t support an effort to bring the card-check bill to a vote, including Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Wal-Mart’s home state, and Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who switched to the Democratic party this week.
Specter said in an interview yesterday that he can’t support some aspects of the bill, including bypassing elections by secret ballot.
“You have to have the secret ballot,” Specter said.