Why Wal-Mart’s Protests Won’t Sell

This op-ed column was originally published at WashingtonTimes.com

Rick Berman, CUF Executive Director

For most Americans, Black Friday is the time to shop around for great deals on new Christmas gifts. For Big Labor, it’s an opportunity to steal the headlines and advance its agenda.

This year is hardly any different. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) front group OUR Wal-Mart is again staging “protests” nationwide to fight for $15 minimum wages and do away with part-time positions. The only difference is that OUR Wal-Mart has recently split into two competing factions — a testament to the failure of protests past and the group’s unpopular tactics writ large.

One camp is now headed by a former spokeswoman from the left-wing group Media Matters for America and has taken to attacking Wal-Mart with six-figure ad buys and other hit pieces. The other — started by two former six-figure UFCW employees (who needed to keep themselves employed after the split) is behind the “Fast for $15,” a hunger strike. It is scheduled to end on Black Friday while lamenting that “wages and hours are too low to put food on the table.”

The latter is also closely collaborating with a liberal coalition of advocacy groups including Demos and National People’s Action, which recently received more than $4 million in union funding.

The campaign is an attention-hoarding stunt. Its claim of “low wages” skirts the facts: According to the company’s website, Wal-Mart’s full-time hourly employees earn an average wage of close to $13 an hour, nearly 80 percent more than the federal minimum wage. (It’s estimated that less than 1 percent of Wal-Mart’s 1.3 million employees earn the national minimum wage.) But union bosses have long ignored the truth to wage a war against employers — even though retailers, including Wal-Mart — provide millions of jobs to hardworking Americans. That’s because there is a separate business inside Black Friday: The protest business. And it’s a multimillion-dollar operation paid for by union dues: The UFCW-backed OUR Wal-Mart campaign spends up to $8 million per year. This includes six-figure contributions to Berlin Rosen — the consulting firm behind much of the union protest theatrics.

With support from political consultants rather than Wal-Mart employees, it’s no wonder that past “protests” haven’t moved the meter. One recent November, OUR Wal-Mart set a goal of turning out 500 Wal-Mart associates across the country — only to see fewer than 20 show up. In 2012, one Alabama “protest” inspired zero turnout. “Demonstrations” in Chicago and Sacramento indicated high levels of stage-management by professional union organizers.

All that money and no real pickets except the ones you pay for. It turns out that the “rent-a-protester” business is a big business of its own. But they aren’t getting a “living wage” to scream at shoppers.

If OUR Wal-Mart was actually accomplishing its goals, the group wouldn’t be squabbling over leadership and direction. And job-seeking Americans wouldn’t be lining up to work for Wal-Mart and companies like it. But union bosses won’t tell you that.

Big Labor would be better off supporting pro-employee measures such as the Employee Rights Act, which lays out specific reforms to help union members and nonunion employees in the workplace. One example: Give all employees a secret ballot election if they want a union. But just as we have seen with other unions trying to get new members, they don’t want a fair vote. They just want the company to cave in to help them unionize the employees, who can have the benefit of paying dues to often corrupt organizations. Unfortunately for the unions, people can smell an outdated idea as easily as rotted meat.

And for the relative handful of employees who honestly believe they are being exploited, they raise an interesting question that goes unasked: If you didn’t like the benefits, pay or promotion opportunities you applied for, why did you line up trying to get the job that you accepted?

It reminds me of people who buy an affordable house near an airport and then complain to government about the noise.