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NLRB: No decision on stopping Walmart protests before Thursday

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Protesters gather outside of a Walmart store near the company's headquarters in Bentonville, AR. (Source: UFCW Local 400) Protesters gather outside of a Walmart store near the company's headquarters in Bentonville, AR. (Source: UFCW Local 400)
Walmart operates more than 10,500 stores in 27 countries. (Source: AmericanManufacturing.org) Walmart operates more than 10,500 stores in 27 countries. (Source: AmericanManufacturing.org)

(RNN) - The National Labor Relations Board released a statement Tuesday saying it will continue to investigate for at least another day Walmart's request to stop Black Friday walkouts and protests sponsored by a pro-union website.

The board's Office of General Counsel said it does not expect to reach a decision on whether or not to seek an injunction to stop the planned protests before Thursday.

The site, MakingChangeAtWalmart.org, encourages employees of the retail giant to join Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). The group has large and active  Facebook and Twitter followings.

In its November 16 complaint, Walmart said OUR Walmart is illegally acting as an agent or affiliate of United Food and Commercial Workers, a charge that the union disputes.

The board's release said the legal issues surrounding the case are complex and that it is interviewing represtentatives and reviewing documents from the company and the union.

A national Walmart spokesman issued a prepared release to WSFA 12 News in Montgomery, AL that downplayed the protests, which call to disrupt shopping on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, the busiest shopping days of the year for retailers.

Kory Lundberg called the union's actions "publicity stunts" and said the company filed the complaint in response to requests from its employees.

"The reality is there are a handful of associates, at a handful of stores scattered across the country that are participating in these UFCW made for TV events," Lundberg said in the email. He said the company does not expect the protests to have any effect on shopping at Walmart on Black Friday.

But a Stanford University law professor who chaired the labor board under President Bill Clinton told the New York Times that the movement seemed to be troubling the company.

"I don't see this translating into a great deal of success in terms of unionizing Walmart or in terms of being particularly effective in improving conditions," said William B Gould IV. "But I must say if they've gone to the NLRB on this, that must show that Walmart is really concerned."

One of the charges on the website is that the store's decision to open on Thanksgiving Day was unfair to employees, and demonstrations are expected to take place nationwide Thursday.

But some Walmart employees already are protesting the company's policies.

In addition to a repeal of the Thanksgiving opening, employees at stores and distribution centers are asking for a minimum hourly wage of $13 and an increase in full-time employment.

Workers are asking for more affordable healthcare as well, after Walmart decided to reduce its contribution to the employee insurance plan. Premium costs for the workers are expected to increase by as much as 36 percent.

Walmart, which employs 1.4 million workers in the U.S., has already prevented multiple efforts by organizers to unionize the retailer's workforce.

Publicity for the protests was raised further by a petition published on MoveOn.org that asks Walmart not to force its employees to work Thanksgiving.

"I am disappointed at the announcement that Walmart stores will start sales at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day to get a few steps in front of the competition," wrote petitioner Mary Pat Tifft. "Walmart makes profits of more than $16 billion yearly. The company can afford to give its employees this holiday to spend with their families."

Tifft, who worked at a Walmart in Kenosha, WI, for 24 years, added she believes the Thanksgiving Day opening shows the company's disregard for its employees.

"As the largest employer in the country, Walmart could be setting a standard for businesses to value families," she wrote. "But instead, this is another Walmart policy decision that hurts the families of workers at its store."

More than 33,000 people had signed the petition by Tuesday morning. Organizers are seeking a total of 40,000 signees before it is delivered to Walmart President Rob Walton.

Walmart is headquartered in Bentonville, AR, and operates more than 10,500 stores in 27 countries.

The retailer employs 2.2 million people worldwide and has an average full-time hourly wage of $12.57. It recorded net sales of $443.9 billion in 2011, an increase of 5.9 percent from the previous year.

Lundberg's email said Walmart's pay and benefits plans are as good or better than those of competitors, including unionized stores.

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