While some of Yale’s graduate teachers rally for unionization on the University’s campus, Local 35 President Bob Proto said state officials and labor leaders are beginning to discuss the possible unionization of workers at another leading Connecticut employer — Wal-Mart.
Proto, the president of the Greater New Haven Labor Council, said he was contacted by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in the wake of a Department of Labor report detailing labor violations at 20 of the 34 Wal-Mart stores and affiliates located in Connecticut. Unionization is necessary to improve the limited pay and benefits currently offered to many of the company’s nearly 9,100 Connecticut employees, Proto said. But Wal-Mart representatives said their workers have routinely voted down union contracts.
Having spent nearly $1.6 billion on merchandise and services from Connecticut businesses last year, Wal-Mart’s sizable operating capital and its growing regional presence make the company’s economic practices fundamentally important to workers statewide, Proto said. He criticized the company for providing what he called “a lousy standard.”
“It’s time to hold this company accountable so they don’t drag down the economic standard that has been created throughout the state of Connecticut by good union jobs,” Proto said. “The middle class is eroding in this state, and unionizing Wal-Mart is the first step toward stopping that erosion. With the exodus of manufacturing jobs, we just can’t let the new standard be a job with substandard pay and substandard benefits.”
But Wal-Mart spokeswoman Christi Gallagher said the company’s workers would not favor unionization.
“Our associates clearly are not interested in being part of a union,” Gallagher said. “They very obviously do not see the logic in paying a third party when they can talk to their managers directly. Time and time again when our employees have voted in a secret-ballot democratic election, they have voted against a union.”
Gallagher said Wal-Mart’s “open-door policy” allows any employee to take grievances to CEO H. Lee Scott or any other executive, and cited this year’s failed unionization votes at a Loveland, Colo. store as further evidence that an outside influence would be unnecessary.
Still, Proto said the company’s especially poor labor record in Connecticut should lend some credence to the benefits of unionization among Wal-Mart employees.
“We need to start reaching out to the workers there, showing them that they can improve their quality of life on the job,” Proto said. “Wal-Mart’s a wealthy company that can throw a lot of money around to prevent that from happening, but they’re a chronic lawbreaker.”
An aide in DeLauro’s Washington office said the congresswoman has not made any firm decisions on the best way to curtail Wal-Mart’s labor violations, but she is determined to take action.
“My boss has been very outspoken on the child labor violations that have been found in Connecticut,” the aide said. “Still, they’re just in the discussion stage right now.”
A spokesman for Blumenthal declined to comment further.
Though Proto said campaigning with members of the Graduate Students and Employees Organization is currently his top priority, he said a series of meetings with state leaders will be planned in the coming weeks to organize a push for unionization at Wal-Mart stores beginning this fall.