BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores here said its decision to eliminate the retailer's first and only department to unionize had been in the works for months, long before the 10 meat-cutters at a Jacksonville, Texas supercenter voted two weeks ago to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
The UFCW, however, said it doubts Wal-Mart's explanation.
The company said it plans to roll out case-ready meats at 180 supercenters and neighborhood markets in six states, including Texas, beginning in May, spokeswoman Jessica Moser told SN. "There will be some restructuring in the meat department at some stores," Moser added.
But the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said the move was a "message" to workers in nearby Palestine, Texas, who are awaiting the results of a National Labor Relations Board hearing on their attempt to organize.
"This announcement is designed to deny workers a voice by making them feel as if they will lose their jobs if they vote to unionize," UFCW spokeswoman Jill Cashen told SN. "They [Wal-Mart] are using this as a way to coerce and intimidate workers."
Wal-Mart strongly denied the allegations.
"This has nothing to do with that situation," Moser said. "To roll out a program of this magnitude without several months of anticipation would be impossible."
Wal-Mart has been selling case-ready poultry and ground beef at its stores for several years, and has been testing case-ready meat in Arkansas supercenters for more than a year, Moser said.
Case-ready meat offers a longer shelf life, more appealing appearance and better quality than meat cut in the store, Wal-Mart said. The company also said it waspopular with customers. "Anyone who watches the retail industry today could tell you that's the direction this entire industry is going," said Moser.
Wal-Mart will continue to use "all legal means" to fight the certification of the UFCW unit in Jacksonville, Moser said, including appealing the decision of the National Labor Relations Board and, if necessary, forcing the issue into circuit court by refusing to bargain with the union.