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Union organizing effort off target

June 21, 2011

Workers at a Target store in Valley Stream, New York rejected an organizing attempt by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in an election held on June 17, 2011. The vote, coming after an aggressive union avoidance campaign by Target, was not close, as over sixty percent of those voting elected to remain non-union.  A union victory would have been the first time that workers at the second largest retailer in the country organized. Target has prevailed in at least four other organizing attempts.

The union argued that it could improve wages and working conditions. A major issue was the number of hours part-time workers work.  The union, citing its typical labor contract provisions, promised to work to increase the number of hours employees would work in a week.

Target ran a traditional management campaign to educate its employees of the importance of the election, holding meetings and distributing fliers. Target told the workers that the union could not guarantee better wages and that a union would make it more difficult for Target to compete. Target also offered free rides to the polls to encourage voters to vote. Nearly 88 percent of those eligible voted. The union claimed that Target intimidated and threatened the workers and that the free rides were nothing more than an effort by Target to keep track of who voted and who did not.

The union had hoped that a successful vote would serve as a catalyst for other organizing drives in the retail industry.  It has been difficult for unions to organize retailers due to the transient workforce.  The union promises more organizing activity and is not ready to concede defeat in Valley Stream. The union plans to file objections to the election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) this week. The union filed other unfair labor practice charges against Target during the campaign.

Unions are retooling to increase their membership numbers. Union membership fell to a 70-year low last year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 11.9 percent of the workforce was unionized in 2011. The Target election underscores the importance of educating workers about their rights in an election. Elections are important events, and they should be treated as such by management. Employees should be encouraged to learn as much as they can about the union and to exercise their right to vote.

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