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Wal-Mart to reopen five U.S. stores at center of union complaint

By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) said it would reopen in late October to early November five U.S. stores whose closure had prompted a union to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming the retailer was retaliating against workers for organizing.

Wal-Mart will start hiring for the stores in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and California, and will encourage previous employees and those that transferred to other stores to apply, company spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said on Wednesday.

Wal-Mart announced the store closures in April to fix plumbing and other repairs. The move impacted some 2,200 workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which backs campaigns pushing the retailer to improve pay and benefits for store employees, filed a complaint to the NLRB that is still pending.

In the complaint the UFCW accused Wal-Mart of using plumbing problems as an excuse to close a store in Pico Rivera, California, in retaliation against workers there who have been active in attempts to organize for better pay and benefits. The other four stores were included as cover, the union claimed.

Wal-Mart has denied the claims, saying the repairs were necessary and extensive.

“We are moving forward with the process to reopen all five stores. While we continue to conduct plumbing repairs and store upgrades, our goal is to begin serving customers by late October or early November," Lorenzo said.

Wal-Mart offered workers 60 days' pay and opportunities to transfer to other stores, with nearly three-fourths of those that sought a transfer granted an offer for one. For workers hired back to the same job at the reopening stores, Wal-Mart said it would guarantee the same rate of pay or higher.

UFCW Jessica Levin spokeswoman said the union wants workers to be reinstated without any application process. She said the union would hold an event to press for this and other demands at the Pico Rivera store on Sept. 10.

"If it is true that the stores were closed for 'plumbing problems,' why is Walmart not reinstating the hard-working men and women that made that store a success in the first place?," Levin said in an emailed statement.

The union's claim is still being investigated by a regional director at the NLRB to determine if it has merit, said agency spokeswoman Jessica Kahanek. She declined further comment.


(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Leslie Adler, Lisa Shumaker and Bernard Orr)