By Kari Lydersen
With $5.6 billion a year in profits and thousands of stores mushrooming around the country, Wal-Mart has become notorious for its union-busting tactics. Maurice Miller, a meat cutter at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Jacksonville, Texas, got a first-hand taste of the company's anti-union vitriol when he and six other meat cutters voted to become members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) Local 540 on February 17.
Several days after the vote, Wal-Mart gave Miller and thousands of other meat cutters and meat wrappers around the country some surprising news: The company is replacing meat-cutting with prepackaged, case-ready meat at 180 of its Supercenter stores in six states starting in May. Eventually, all 700 Supercenter stores nationwide will make this change. Wal-Mart says this switch has been in the works for years, and promises that the meat cutters all will be reassigned to different jobs. "Wal-Mart is going case-ready for one reason," says company spokeswoman Jessica Moser, "it's the highest quality you can provide customers today."
But workers call the timing of the announcement a calculated anti-union move. Miller says workers hadn't heard anything about the switch until the vote - the store even had recently purchased thousands of dollars worth of new meat-cutting equipment. While it's true workers won't lose their jobs, he said, they are worried about switches in their duties, hours and wages.
"This is an intimidation tactic," says UFCW spokeswoman Jill Cashen. "Basically they're trying to frighten thousands of other workers around the country away from unionizing. They're showing them that if you vote to unionize, your department is cut."