GMB has won a significant battle with Wal-Mart the privately owned transnational supermarket owner.
Wal-Mart is known to many trade unionists as the ultimate "union-free" company. It has been nearly impossible for trade unionists to get a foothold in the company's US stores, though there have been some organizing victories in Canada. Various unions including the Teamsters, well known for their aggressive approach to employers, and the United Food and Cannery Workers, well known for their passive approach to employers, have been rebuffed by Wal-Mart.
In one campaign in Canada, the union won a ballot on representation, for Wal-Mart to announce the store’s closure a while after the ballot, and for a new store to open in a different part of the town.
A few years back, Wal-Mart acquired a British supermarket chain, Asda, leading to concerns that the company's anti-union tactics would now spread across the Atlantic. That is precisely what happened. In Washington (Tyne and Wear – not the USA), GMB members were offered a 10% pay rise if they deserted their union. They voted not to do this and even went on strike for extra pay. An Employment Tribunal ruled that Wal-Mart broke the law by trying to induce union members to give up collective bargaining. The members were awarded £2,500 each as compensation, at a cost of £850,000 to the company. As the company has appealed, this total amount is subject to interest and is increasing at a rate of £268 per day.
Soon after this Wal-Mart told the GMB that it was withdrawing from collective bargaining at the Dartford depot, where GMB had and still has over 90% membership.
It is in this context that we must understand -- and celebrate -- the victory announced this week by Britain's GMB union.
In a word, the GMB established the right of workers to organize collectively and be represented by the union of their choice at the distribution depots of Asda Wal-Mart. We achieved this by preparing for a major strike. Not only did we win recognition from management for current union members, we also won "access to all ASDA distribution sites (current and future), with facilities for appropriate levels of union workplace representatives, facilities to distribute union literature, recruit into the union, present the union case during company induction procedures" and more.
The new agreement with the company also provides for:
A new Distribution National Joint Council is to be established to deal with a range of issues of mutual concern and interest in relation to ASDA's distribution depots;
Meetings of the company and the union will take place at the most senior level at least twice a year jointly to review major strategic issues facing the company;
Negotiations at local level will take place on the modernisation of the existing
collective bargaining agreements in nine ASDA depots with the NJC exercising an overview;
GMB will henceforth be given access to all ASDA distribution sites (current and future), with facilities for appropriate levels of union workplace representatives, facilities to distribute union literature, recruit into the union, present the union case during company induction procedures, run union election procedures for workplace reps and within the new NJC etc; the details of all these arrangements need to be agreed;
In relation to two sites in which ASDA/GMB Partnership Agreements currently operate, the company has agreed to negotiate with the GMB through the NJC as a first priority on a model collective bargaining agreement for these and potentially other sites. The work should be completed within 3 months and implementation of this agreement in each site needs support from 50 per cent or more of those voting in a ballot of all colleagues, to be triggered by the GMB at an appropriate time.
The company has confirmed that they have no principled objection to collective bargaining provided this is subject to the free and informed choice of employees. The company would remain neutral and would continue to communicate with colleagues in the normal way and both parties have committed that any ballots held under these procedures would be conducted in a non-adversarial manner.
In the spirit of this agreement the union and the company will carry out joint presentations for managers and union reps.
Within the Thames Valley branch a stalwart band of 20+ members at the Asda Wal-Mart depot at Didcot has been watching the developments with interest. Members and potential members have had doubts about GMB, as the site is governed by a “partnership” agreement signed by Alistair Maclean, former GMB Senior Organiser, before the union had actually recruited at the site. The agreement prevented the union negotiating on pay issues, and allowed management to vet union shop stewards.
GMB are now working towards establishing full collective bargaining at the Didcot depot to give members for the first time an open say in their terms and conditions of employment through an independent trade union.