Originally created 02/04/03

Some S.C. workers testify Wal-Mart discouraged unionizing



AIKEN, S.C. -- Wal-Mart employee Barbara Hall was concerned about job security when she inquired about a union in 2001, but that notion was quickly quashed by managers, she told an administrative law judge Monday.

Hall was among a handful of employees who testified that Wal-Mart managers harassed employees when talk of organizing a union circulated an Aiken store in the summer of 2001.

Hall told Judge John West, of the National Labor Relations Board, that Wal-Mart suspended her for about a month after asking for information about a union.

An attorney for Wal-Mart said she was given a medical leave of absence because of anxiety attacks.

Kathleen Ann MacDonald, who has worked for 13 years at Wal-Mart, said she started to distribute material about the United Food and Commercial Workers Union during the summer of 2001.

That's when Wal-Mart representatives from corporate headquarters started to show films at employee meetings designed to discourage union activity, MacDonald testified.

A representative "at Wal-Mart was not anti-union, but he just didn't think we needed third-party representation," MacDonald said.

Wal-Mart attorney Richard Rainey said company representatives visited the store to educate and inform workers.

"There were no violations of the law that occurred during that period," of June 2001, Rainey said.

Also, MacDonald said her pay was raised shortly after meeting with corporate representatives in June 2001 about the union.

But Rainey said the process of raising wages began well before any union organizing activity.

West was expected hear more testimony Tuesday and issue a ruling in several weeks.

The nation's largest retailer faces about 30 similar cases, according to National Labor Relations Board spokesman Dave Parker.

Workers' attorneys say managers forced employees to work unpaid overtime or risk demotion or even firing. At least three dozen similar cases are pending in 30 states, and the company has settled two similar overtime cases in Colorado and New Mexico.

Wal-Mart firmly says it offers good career opportunities and treats workers well.

George Wiszynski, assistant general counsel for the union, said if Wal-Mart were not facing so many similar complaints this one could be considered insignificant.

A spokesman with the United Food & Commercial Workers Union said he hopes the hearing will send a message to workers.

"It is extremely hard in the South" to organize, said David Moody, 41, Southeastern representative of the union. "Maybe this will set a precedent for more organizing campaigns in South Carolina."

Moody's wife, Joyce Moody, a former Wal-Mart employee who is working to unionize Aiken workers, said she was told it was against company policy to talk about the union while at work.

She said the managers can intimidate employees unless they are vocal. But with "the economy like it is, people are afraid of losing their jobs."