The Friday after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, is reliably one of the busiest shopping days of the year. And, just as reliably, you can expect a group called OUR Walmart, which is financed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), to attempt to disrupt the day with potentially illegal actions designed to harass innocent people who merely want to shop.
The Baltimore-Washington area has already seen its share of protests from the UFCW and OUR Walmart. It claims to represent the interests of Walmart's employees, but the facts tell a very different story. The group is, in reality, nothing more than a front for the UFCW, which uses OUR Walmart as a pawn in its attempts to unionize Walmart stores. The UFCW's own financial disclosure forms make this clear. In its annual filing with the U.S. Department of Labor, the union states: "The UFCW has a subsidiary organization maintained in Washington DC named the Organization United For Respect at Walmart[.]"
The creation of front organizations like OUR Walmart is a recent trend in union organizing. These so-called "worker centers" have spread into a number of different sectors of the economy, including restaurants, retail and transportation. Yet few of them are as aggressive as OUR Walmart.
The UFCW-OUR Walmart protests can involve dozens of people descending on Walmart stores, damaging merchandise, harassing shoppers, provoking arrests and bullying workers. They have increasingly drawn the ire of judges and law enforcement. In one case in Michigan, OUR Walmart was charged with following a Walmart employee into a bathroom and harassing her (a charge that the group quickly settled). In fact, courts in six states have issued injunctions prohibiting OUR Walmart's activities, which, as the Baltimore City Circuit Court found, "created a potential for violence."
Baltimore Judge Paul F. Harris strongly condemned OUR Walmart's behavior. Specifically, he pointed out that in arguing against an injunction, the group's main defense seemed to be that "they were justified in breaking the law[.]" When OUR Walmart's lawyers claimed its behavior was protected by the First Amendment, the judge replied "This conduct can't be tolerated and it's not consistent with the First Amendment right of the people to peacefully assemble." Describing OUR Walmart's activities as "bullying tactics and lawlessness," the judge went on to say that the group "just had a total disregard for the law."
Not surprisingly, OUR Walmart's harassment isn't limited just to Walmart's employees. The group also seeks to intimidate individual shoppers. But as Judge Harris noted: "Innocent citizens and private property store owners have a right to be protected from criminal activity" and the group's aggressive tactics "prevented the public from doing what they normally should have a right to do."
What makes the actions of the UFCW and OUR Walmart even worse is that most of the protesters engaged in its activities aren't even Walmart employees. Although the group tries to pretend its events are grassroots uprising of actual workers, this really isn't the case. As court documents in a Florida case make clear, OUR Walmart protests are often made up of little more than paid UFCW staff, union interns and officials of other unions. Those same court documents also show that OUR Walmart doesn't just impersonate employees; the group has tried to send people into stores to pose as customers, who can then pretend to march out and join OUR Walmart protests. This doesn't quite fit the definition of grassroots activism.
Few people would associate behavior such as bullying, trespassing and intimidation with the Thanksgiving holiday. Unfortunately, OUR Walmart and the UFCW want to make sure they're on the menu.