Regional television advertisements and targeted messages on Facebook were part of a pro-union campaign aimed at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. employees in the week leading up to Labor Day.
Messages in the ads, including one that ran nationally in USA Today, focused on workplace concerns and treatment of employees. Funding the campaign were Making Change at Walmart and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
"We were looking at areas we thought were underserved markets in terms of our outreach to Wal-Mart workers," union spokesman Jess Levin said. "Really wanted to let them know we were here for them. This type of campaign is brand new for us. We want workers to know we support them and we want to make sure customers are aware of things going on at Wal-Mart."
TV markets targeted were Fort Smith/Fayetteville and Little Rock in Arkansas along with Memphis and Tulsa. Facebook users who noted in their profiles that they were Wal-Mart employees were seeing messages touting a link to a page featuring the TV ad.
Employee responses posted to the page were mostly positive and defended their treatment by Wal-Mart. Issues mentioned in the advertisements have, in many cases, been previously addressed by the company.
"Do you or your loved ones work for Wal-Mart? If you or family member has experienced abuse at work -- you can hold this billion-dollar corporation accountable," the voice-over on the TV ad said. "Past abuses include denying employees overtime, cutting health care benefits, and allegations of workplace discrimination."
Information for a website and phone number for reporting problems were included.
Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer with 1.3 million U.S. workers, has an "open door" policy in place for employees who are encouraged to report any concerns to immediate supervisors. In cases where workers don't feel they're getting an appropriate response they can go to a higher level of management or report concerns to the home office.
Employees also have been encouraged by Wal-Mart U.S. CEO Greg Foran to email him with concerns. Foran and chief operating officer Judith McKenna visited stores last year to hear and address problems that employees might have.
"Our open-door policy has been ingrained in our culture for along time," Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick said. "It's a process that has been in place and it's been updated and improved upon. Our open-door policy is something our associates know about and put into practice every day."
Calling in concerns to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union hotline provided an outlet for employees who "feared retaliation," Levin said.
Retail and other service workers are viewed as a key battleground for labor unions. Membership is flat and declining in traditionally pro-labor sectors like manufacturing and government, so growth will require buy-in from other employment sectors.
Union expert and author Phil Dine said the campaign appeared to be focused on humanizing the pro-labor position for the public. Dine said the efforts by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union were more creative than tactics they might have traditionally used.
Utilizing social media was a particularly savvy step, especially in generating interests among younger workers, he said.
"Labor for a long time has been stubborn. It's not been seen as creative," said Dine, author of State of the Unions. "Labor has often taken the position of doing things just because that's how it's been done in the past. They're realizing they have to take different approaches than maybe they have in the past to reach young people and others who might be as familiar with the movement."
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union said it was planning protests and "on-the-ground activity" at 50 locations across the country in conjunction with the ad campaign. Similar advertisements ran in select TV markets around the Fourth of July.
Wal-Mart dismissed the efforts as a politically motivated waste of union workers' dues and pointed out that the company has invested heavily in its workforce this year. The retailer is spending $1 billion on wage increases and improvements to how workers are trained and scheduled.
"Our associates know if they have anything they want to share they can do that," Nick said. "I think the feedback speaks for itself on the [United Food and Commercial Workers Union] web page. These associates they're targeting and trying to deliver a message to, are disagreeing in their own words. If you see what's being said, they're directly negating the propaganda that is in the ad."
SundayMonday Business on 09/07/2015
Print Headline: TV, online ads put bulls-eye on Wal-Mart