Walmart’s Unions

They do exist—outside the U.S.—as a Washington Post story shows

It’s well known that Walmart is viciously anti-union. It’s not much known is that the company is much more accomodative to organized labor in other countries that have more labor-friendly policies.

The Washington Post is good to report on that difference, showing that Walmart stores have unions in the UK, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, China, and South Africa. Why does Walmart play along with labor in those countries but not in the U.S. or Canada, where it will shut down a store rather than let workers organize?

“We recognize those rights,” said John Peter “J.P.” Suarez , senior vice president of international business development at Wal-Mart. “In that market, that’s what the associates want, and that’s the prevailing practice.”

So Walmart doesn’t “recognize those rights” in the U.S. That tells you something about the climate here for organized labor, which has been almost snuffed out in the private sector.

But elsewhere:

In some countries, such as China, recognition of unions is required by law. Wal-Mart said about 70 percent of its employees there are members of the All China Federation of Trade Unions. In other cases, the political and social climate of a country makes union membership more palatable. Wal-Mart said that 18 percent of its workers in Mexico have chosen to organize, and British labor leader Paul Kenny said in recent news reports there that its dealings with Wal-Mart have been “honest.”

I think “recognition of unions is required by law” in the U.S. too, though it’s not much followed anymore. But it’s interesting that a union leader in Britain would call Walmart “honest.” Certainly that would never happen here.

And that’s where this story falls down. There’s no evidence, beyond the above boilerplate quote about “prevailing practice”, that Walmart was really pushed to discuss the disparity between its U.S. labor policy and its policies in other countries—much less the lengths to which it will go here to keep its American workers from organizing. That includes blatantly breaking the law.

I too often find these days that Post business stories seem thin, leaving me wanting quite a bit more. This one’s not an exception. It could have used more reporting and more space.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , ,