Nov. 21, 2012 at 11:06 AM ET
Wal-Mart worker protests and walk-offs planned for Thursday night and Black Friday had the retailer taking them seriously enough to send a top executive to the TODAY show this morning to downplay the story.
Widespread picketing was not expected, Duncan Mac Naughton, Wal-Mart's chief merchandising and marketing officer, told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie. "We'll have 4,000 stores ready to go," said Naughton, staffed by "one million associates serving our customer."
The group behind the protest actions, OUR Walmart, told TODAY they are striking to protest what they say is manager retaliation against any employees who complain about working conditions.
"We have a really open culture of listening to our associates, it's based on integrity, respect for the individual," Mac Naughton told TODAY.
An OUR Walmart organizer, William Fletcher, 23, disputed this, telling TODAY that Walmart's "open door policy" where any associate can speak to a manager to bring up issues was instead used to "find out who's complaining so they can silence them with indirect threats. "They're very good at doing that while still staying within the law."
Wal-Mart said they were "really confident" that Black Friday will go off without a hitch. "What you're seeing in the media and in the news is a small group of Wal-Mart associates in a select number of stores," said Mac Naughton, "complimented by a number of of non-Wal-Mart associates that are paid by the union."
Still, the matter is large enough for Wal-Mart to have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), arguing that the protests were an unlawful attempt to disrupt its business. The complaint alleged that the group running the protests, the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), was backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), and was more about building union membership than fighting for worker rights.
The UCFW filed its own complaint that day, alleging that Walmart had directed store managers to make workers fearful for their jobs if they participated in the actions.
The legal maneuvers may be too late to prevent the strikes from disrupting one of the biggest shopping days of the year for Wal-Mart. In a statement released Tuesday, the NLRB said that it was unlikely to come to a decision before Friday.
With stores opening at 8 p.m. on Thursday and walk-offs planned throughout the shopping event, consumer chaos is a threat, depending on how many workers end up participating.
"Workers will be walking off the job left and right over Thanksgiving," UCFW Janna Pea spokesperson told TODAY.
Pea couldn't give an estimate of how many walkoffs there would be, but said that there would be protest actions at over 1,000 Wal-Mart stores, ranging from employees not showing up for work, to workers walking off in the middle of their shift, to community allies passing out brochures outside the stores.