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24. Wal-Mart Takes Union Busting to the State Level

Source:

Madison Capital Times
August, 2001
Title: Wal-Mart Ravages Workers’ Rights
By John Nichols
Reprinted In Asheville Global Report 9/6/01

Faculty evaluator: Phil McGough
Student researcher: Kathy Jensen

Wal-Mart has been pouring a considerable amount of money into a political campaign supporting a law that will reduce the wages and benefits for workers in Oklahoma. Oklahomans voted on the “right to work” law in September of 2001. The law bans labor contracts that require workers to pay union dues or representation fees. The law also makes it difficult for unions to negotiate solid contracts. Wal-Mart hopes to use Oklahoma as a model for a renewed campaign to reduce the wages and benefits for workers nation wide.

This campaign will inevitably undermine the ability of unions to effectively organize. The right to work law has union members angered and concerned, as expressed by a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers “Union members across the country should take note of Wal-Mart’s support of measures like ‘right to work’ before they spend any of their union wages at Wal-Mart stores.” Right to work laws were developed in the 1940s by segregationists to keep African-Americans, Latinos, and white workers in the South and Southwest from unionizing. Right to work laws were among the vile legacies of an era when conservatives worked at the state and national level to erect legal barriers to racial progress. Only two states have passed right to work laws since the civil rights era.

In the 21 States with right to work laws, the medium household income is $4,882 less than states where workers are free to organize effective unions. These states have higher poverty rates and less health insurance coverage than states without right to work laws.

Oklahoma rejected a right to work law in 1964, when Martin Luther King Jr. came to campaign against the proposal. This time around however powerful right-wing interests combined with Wal-Mart to push the initiative. The Daily Oklahoman contributed advertising space and Governor Frank Keating and U.S. Senator Don Nickles campaigned in support of passage.

Nichols writes, “In a sense, it is a good investment for Wal-Mart, which often has a hard time finding workers willing to accept low wages paid at it stores. If the Oklahoma campaign is a success, right-to-work advocates hope to use it as a model for passing similar initiatives in Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Montana, New Hampshire and New Mexico.”

UPDATE: On September 25 the voters of Oklahoma passed the right-to-work law by a 54% margin. Wal-Mart contributed $250,000 to the campaign. AFL-CIO had filed legal challenges to the law.

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