Colo. Wal-Mart Workers Vote on Unionization

( '? note: I might even have to go into town and show my solidarity with this brave crew!)

LOVELAND, Colo. (AP) - In what has become a closely-watched fight, some 20 employees of a Wal-Mart Tire & Lube Express here were scheduled to vote Friday on a proposal that could make history - establishing the first union inside any Wal-Mart store in the United States.

The regional office of the National Labor Relations Board, which sided with workers in allowing the vote opposed by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. executives, will supervise the election.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based chain, the world's largest retailer with more than 5,100 locations, appealed the decision to NLRB headquarters in Washington, DC, but board members again sided with employees.

"The vote is going to be close," Norberto Ricardo, an organizer with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, said Thursday. "We know the Wal-Mart anti-union 'swat team' from corporate headquarters has been bullying workers to vote no. We are telling workers now is the time to stand up for themselves against the world's largest, richest and meanest corporation."

Christi Gallagher, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, said the company's employees "have very open communication with their managers and they don't feel like a third party would in any way benefit that relationship."

Gallagher has also insisted that the Tire & Lube Express is simply one department of the 480-employee store, not a stand-alone unit eligible for union representation. Workers, however, believe otherwise, saying the shop has a separate entrance and is situated at the end of the building - far away from other departments in the store.

In recent years, the UFCW has targeted Tire & Lube Express shops nationwide as its best possible chance to bring unions to the retailer, but previous elections have been unsuccessful.

Meatcutters in Texas conducted a union vote in 2000, but shortly afterward, Wal-Mart eliminated the position companywide, insisting the move was not related to the election. Earlier this month, the company said it would close a store in Quebec, Canada, because of what company officials called "unreasonable demands" by workers trying to negotiate the first-ever union contract with the retailer.

In trading Friday morning, Wal-Mart shares fell 35 cents to $51.11 on the New York Stock Exchange - near its 52-week low of $51.08.

---By ERIC DAIGH Associated Press Writer


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