California Wal-Mart at Center of Labor Dispute to Reopen

LOS ANGELES (Los Angeles Times/TNS) -

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is reopening a Los Angeles-area store targeted by union organizers and four others across the country after shutting them down five months ago for what the company said were plumbing repairs.

The Bentonville, Ark., company said it would begin hiring for these stores this month and was communicating with employees affected by the store closures in April to encourage them to reapply. The stores will reopen in late October or early November.

The closures affected about 2,200 workers. Wal-Mart said nearly 75 percent of the workers who wanted to transfer to another store got an offer to do so.

“We are moving forward with the process to reopen all five stores,” Wal-Mart spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said in a statement. “While we continue to conduct plumbing repairs and store upgrades, our goal is to begin serving customers by late October or early November.”

The five stores, which include locations in Texas, Oklahoma and Florida, are the center of a pending complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. The complaint was made on behalf of Our Wal-Mart, a group of employees fighting for higher wages.

In the filing, the union alleges that the LA-area store closure in April was intended to punish workers who took part in the first strike against the retailer in 2012 and have aggressively campaigned for higher wages. The store is located in Pico Rivera, about 10 miles southeast of downtown LA.

The complaint also contends that the four other stores were closed to “mask” the retaliatory move against the LA-area workers, many of whom received only hours of notice.

“If it is true that the stores were closed for ‘plumbing problems,’ why is Wal-Mart not reinstating the hard-working men and women that made that store a success in the first place?” Jessica Levin, communications director for Making Change at Walmart, said in a statement. Making Change at Walmart is a coalition anchored by the UFCW that is pushing for better pay and benefits at the retailer.

Levin said many of the workers are still out of a job and hoping to be rehired.

The company said that laid-off employees received severance pay for 60 days, and that associates who return to the reopened stores would receive the same pay or higher if they were rehired to the same job.

The store’s closure rocked the community, where the local Wal-Mart was the city’s second-largest employer, topped only by the local school district.

At the time, Mayor Gregory Salcido estimated that the retailer accounted for approximately 10 percent of the city’s sales-tax revenue.