By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Wal-Mart and the National Labor Relations Board will square off in court over charges that the Union Township super center tried to keep workers from unionizing.
The NLRB's Region Six office in Pittsburgh issued the complaint last week after investigating claims brought by the United Food & amp; Commercial Workers Union Local 880. Union officials say Wal-Mart violated fair labor practice laws with workers in the Tire and Lube Express department who were considering joining the union in the summer of 2000.
A hearing is set for 10 a.m. Jan. 15 in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court before an administrative law judge.
Lou Maholic, director of organizing for UFCW Local 680, said a vote to determine if the workers will unionize has been postponed until the NLRB charges are resolved.
Response: Wal-Mart officials say the charges are the union's attempt to stall the election because there is not enough support to organize the employees.
"It was blocked because the union had no support and they didn't want to lose face. They did what they felt they had to do," said Jessica Moser, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman from the corporate office in Bentonville, Ark.
Union organizers say that Wal-Mart officials promised to remedy employees' grievances before they voted on the union to undermine support for the union. Those grievances included the employees desire for new equipment, hiring more workers and replacing a district manager.
Moser said those things were done as a normal part of business.
"What they are accusing us of is listening to and taking care of our associates," she said.
Moser noted that one charge involves the move of a union supporter from the tire and lube express department to loss prevention. She said that employee asked to be moved to that new position.
Nationwide: Maholic said the allegations in New Castle demonstrate a nationwide pattern by Wal-Mart of avoiding unionization. He said similar charges against Wal-Mart have been filed in Nevada, Texas and Arizona.
Moser said the union tried to bring unfair labor practice grievances against the retailer on a national basis but was rejected by the NLRB and is now doing it store by store.
"The National Labor Relations Board recognizes that Wal-Mart deals with our associates on a one-to-one basis with an open door policy. That's the kind of relationship we've had. These charges have no merit," she said. "When this is all said and done, we are confident the National Labor Relations Board will dismiss these charges or cause the union to withdraw them."