Labor unions are a powerful way for workers to have their needs, concerns, and desires met, utilizing strength in numbers and a common purpose.
While you see them more commonly in industries like education or law enforcement, unions nonetheless represent workers from many different areas, including retail.
As one of the largest retailers in the world, you might be wondering: Is Walmart unionized? Are any, if not all, their employees represented, like Costco’s? Here’s what you need to know.
Is Walmart Unionized?
Walmart’s employees are not currently unionized. While Walmart maintains that they are not “anti-union” but “pro-associate,” evidence suggests that the retail giant engages in union-busting activities, such as employee surveillance. While some groups have tried to unionize over the years, these efforts have come to naught.
To learn more about why Walmart employees aren’t unionized, which Walmart employees have attempted to unionize in the past, and whether employees might try in the future, keep reading!
Why Isn’t Walmart Unionized?
Walmart is an incredibly profitable business, with over 11,000 stores worldwide, hundreds of millions of customers and billions of dollars in revenue every year.
Additionally, they employ millions of people across the globe, with 1.6 million right here in the U.S.
The power held by a company that has such global reach is immense, beyond what many of us can imagine.
And remaining profitable – increasing profitability, actually – every year is the goal of any business, anywhere, no matter its size.
So if I had to guess, with all their millions of employees, Walmart likely wants to avoid the drain on their financial resources that unions could potentially pose.
Wes Bennet worked for Walmart for nearly 20 years.
On a Quora page about Walmart’s relationship with unions, he said, “…many of the benefits that unions promise become cost-prohibitive.”
He continued, pointing out that when employee benefits rise, product prices generally also rise.
And that would inhibit Walmart from offering the very lowest prices on thousands of items – basically their entire business model.
The collective bargaining power of millions of trained workers, especially at this point, would be hugely disrupting for a company that has been doing things a certain way for so long.
Instead of allowing their employees to unionize, Walmart maintains a strong “pro-associate” stance.
They indicate they prefer interacting with employees directly rather than through a third party.
What Walmart Locations Are Unionized?
As of this writing, no Walmart locations in the U.S., or elsewhere are currently unionized.
When a department or store attempts to unionize, Walmart acts quickly to shut down those operations in the interests of the company.
See the next section for some examples of Walmart’s union-busting actions.
Have Walmart Employees Ever Tried To Unionize?
Walmart employees have attempted to unionize in the past.
Perhaps the most famous example occurred in 2000 when the Jacksonville, TX Walmart meat department contacted the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
After his department voted to join the UFCW – the first time ever for Walmart employees – three other meat departments followed suit.
The meat cutters – led by a butcher with almost 25 years of experience – were unhappy with unfulfilled promises and seeing new employees hired on, starting out with higher pay.
In what was very likely a direct retaliation, Walmart put that original meat department on the chopping block, plus an additional 179 others, too.
They announced they were pivoting instead to prepackaged meat and got rid of the in-store butchers altogether.
Something similar unfolded in Quebec, Canada in 2004.
An entire store unionized, assisted by the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada.
The pro-union employees were subject to harassment, humiliation, and threats by management, leading to an increasingly hostile work environment.
However, the following year, higher-ups announced that the newly opened Walmart location would shortly be closing.
The matter went to the Supreme Court of Canada, and the judges ruled against Walmart, saying their closing of the store in response to unionizing was illegal.
Indeed, in the U.S. employers are legally barred from discouraging union activity among employees by means of threats (e.g., saying they will close the store or cut benefits).
Time and again, however, Walmart finds itself in trouble for breaking these laws.
In 2018, Walmart reached a settlement wherein they had to acknowledge that they broke the law by threatening employees who had indicated support of striking or organizing.
Will Walmart Employees Ever Unionize In The Future?
Future Walmart employee unionizing looks like it would be an uphill battle, as the retailer has seemingly endless financial resources at their disposal.
Yet organizations like OUR Walmart, an offshoot of the UFCW, are becoming savvier and stronger each year.
The Organization United For Respect at Walmart (hence the OUR Walmart) actually rebranded and is now United4Respect.
And their website claims that their work helped bring about Walmart’s new $11 base pay.
Although it may not have yielded many official results, Union activity appears to be applying steady pressure on Walmart nonetheless.
For example, Walmart recently announced they were raising the wages of some 400,000-plus workers, to bring their average wage up to $15 per hour.
They also declared their intention to have at least two-thirds of their labor force as full-time employees, with steady pay and hours, by early 2022.
Walmart is not currently unionized and has a long history of union-averse activity.
Employees and organizations like the UFCW and United4Respect are pushing back, but Walmart’s power as an employer is fiercely intimidating.
As the culture shifts toward great employee rights and benefits, however, so too do we see Walmart shift, if a bit slower than rivals like Costco or Miejer.