More union trouble ahead for Walmart

Walmart has fended off the best efforts of organized labor for decades, but it appears likely the company will need to elevate its game after several major unions joined forces this week.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), long a thorn in Walmart’s side, has rejoined the AFL-CIO, the organizations announced this week. The move comes eight years after UFCW and six other unions left the AFL-CIO, a move which weakened organized labor just as unions were becoming less relevant in many sectors of the economy. The seven unions created a new organization called Change to Win.

‘‘It is about joining forces to build a more united labor movement that can fight back against the corporate and political onslaught facing our members each and every day,’’ UFCW president Joe Hansen said of the decision to rejoine the AFL-CIO.

The 1.3-million-member UFCW represents workers in the retail, meat packing and food processing industries, which is why the group frequently butted heads with Walmart. This was especially true once Walmart began opening supercenters and creating competitive challenges for conventional supermarket chains, many of whom fared poorly against Walmart because their heavily unionized and more highly compensated labor forces meant they couldn’t rival Walmart’s expense structure and consequently its prices. Walmart consumed market share in a fragmented food retailing industry throughout the 1990s and 2000s as it built a network of 3,000 U.S. supercenters.

Despite Walmart’s best efforts, it could never quite deliver a knockout blow to the UFCW and with the union now part of a larger group the pressure Walmart feels from organized labor is poised to intensify.

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