Tire and automotive service workers at Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s New Castle store unanimously voted down an initiative that would have unionized the Tire and Lube Express department.
In a secret ballot election Feb. 11 conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), workers voted 17-0 against joining the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. The vote ended a 4 1/2-year battle by Cleveland-based UFCW Local 880 to try to organize the New Castle store's tire department.
Wal-Mart lauded the election results, which a company spokeswoman said only confirmed that its associates don't want to be represented by the UFCW.
``We are pleased that our associates finally had a chance to vote and send a strong message to the union,'' said Terry Srsen, vice president of labor relations for Wal-Mart, in a prepared statement. ``In past elections, the UFCW has been rejected over and over by our associates because they do not feel that a third party would add anything to Wal-Mart's culture or environment.''
Lou Maholic, Local 880's organizing director, said he wasn't surprised by the unanimous vote considering that only three of the original Tire and Lube Express workers who filed a petition with the UFCW in 2000 remain at New Castle. He said the union had filed a number of unfair labor practice charges against the nation's largest retailer in 2000, and many of those charges were upheld by the NLRB. He claimed that numerous appeals by Wal-Mart and a strategy of delaying the election helped seal the outcome of New Castle's vote.
``There's a very high turnover in the retail industry in general, and that's what employers and especially Wal-Mart bank on,'' Mr. Maholic said. ``The more they can drag the procedures out, the more of a chance they have with people getting frustrated and leaving.''
Mr. Maholic noted that two days before the vote, Wal-Mart announced it would shut its store in Jonquiere, Quebec, which was the retailer's first store to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement. The Quebec store was union-certified by provincial labor officials in September.
``I think (the Quebec store closure) had a very detrimental impact on the work force in New Castle,'' he said.
In the U.S., the attempted unionization at New Castle of Wal-Mart's Tire and Lube Express department is the first of its kind. In 2000, the meatpacking department at a store in Texas voted to join the UFCW, but then Wal-Mart eliminated meat-cutter jobs companywide.
At a Loveland, Colo., Wal-Mart store, tire and auto center workers also are trying to organize. They were scheduled to vote on joining the UFCW on Feb. 25-the day after Tire Business went to press.