[FOUNTAIN]An unbroken union

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[FOUNTAIN]An unbroken union

You can find everything you can think of at Wal-Mart except a labor union.
The retail giant is notorious for its policies against labor unions. The company is known to filter out candidates who could be potential union leaders at the time they are recruited.
An internal memo written in 1991 gave managers a list of 24 signs that employees were interested in organizing a union. If employees increasingly talked to one another on the phone, became interested in the profits of the company or in its corporate policies, asked radical questions at meetings, mentioned union-related terms such as mediation, an ombudsman and longevity pay, or suddenly met with other employees they weren’t normally friendly with, the manager was required to report the behavior to the union avoidance team at headquarters. The task force would immediately fly to the store in question on a chartered flight. That is how the company prevented the unionization of its workers for more than 40 years. There has been only one successful case of unionization, in a store in Quebec, Canada in 2004, but Wal-Mart closed the store the following year.
The no-union policy of Wal-Mart goes back to the customer-service philosophy of founder Sam Walton. Mr. Walton’s Rule No. 1: The customer is always right. Rule No. 2: “If the customer happens to be wrong, refer back to Rule No. 1.” No matter how unreasonable a customer’s demand might be, the Wal-Mart employees must not express anger. Once a customer files a complaint, the staff in question will be rebuked or be required to write a letter explaining the circumstances. The “Ten Foot Rule” is also a must. Whenever a customer is within 10 feet of an associate, he should look into that person’s eyes, greet the customer and offer help.
The unconditional return policy is also a part of the founder’s philosophy. The customer does not need to explain why he wants to return a product. “I changed my mind” is reason enough. Some customers abuse the policy and return a tent after a camping trip or costumes after Halloween. Taking all the returns incur enormous costs, which should be set off somewhere else. It is easiest for the company to save on wages, and it is part of the reason for the anti-union policy.
A landmark union was organized in a store in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, China. Some 30 employees formed a union, and Wal-Mart announced it would respect the intentions of the employees.
Despite the 40-year-old legacy of no-union policy, Wal-Mart can’t be willing to give up the Chinese market.


by Yi Jung-jae

The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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