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Non-union Organizing at Walmart: Governance Structures and Worker Perception

This study investigates the impact of the governance structures of OUR Walmart upon the perceptions of workers towards the organization. OUR Walmart, a non-union labor organization that advocates on behalf of and with Walmart employees, was formed in 2011, embracing a decentralized, social media-driven strategy distinct from the traditional logic of unionization. Walmart is well-known for its unyielding opposition to any organization of its workforce; prior attempts at unionizing Walmart have been quickly stymied by its anti-union strategies. However, OUR Walmart (later renamed United For Respect) has continued to operate and organize Walmart employees while winning significant victories that have positively impacted working conditions.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a total of 23 participants from three groups: Walmart employees affiliated with URFR, staff of the organization, and non-affiliated employees of Walmart. Interviews indicated that the governance structures of United For Respect are structured to center workers when devising strategic goals and collective actions, which interviewed subjects highlighted as key to the organization’s effectiveness in terms of both prioritizing targets and meaningfully engaging members. Social media was highlighted as a key avenue for recruitment and mobilization, and a site for building solidarity and collective identity.

Analysis of findings show that the governance structures of the organization are effective at empowering workers to participate in devising goals and strategy and are genuinely distinct from top-down bureaucratic governance structures. Analysis also indicates that affiliates (both workers and staff) perceive an incompatibility between traditional union structures (which are conceived of as as restrictive and hierarchical) and the more worker-driven structure of UFR; this signifies that the organization will not provide a path to the unionization of Walmart employees. However, the success and relative longevity of the organization suggest that the non-union structure of the organization represents a necessary adaptive strategy in the face of various structural challenges to traditional labor organizing in the U.S.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Thesis Advisors
Winkler, Inga T.
Degree
M.A., Columbia University
Published Here
August 24, 2020