Unions file new Wal-Mart labor complaint related to store closure

The Walmart logo is pictured at its store in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles November 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian

(Reuters) - Unions filed a second labor board complaint against Wal-Mart Stores Inc related to its temporary closure of a California store, claiming the retailer discriminated against activist workers by not transferring them to nearby stores.

The retailer says the closure of the California store - and four others at the center of the first complaint - was justified by the need for extensive repairs. It says it has offered 75 percent of employees who sought a transfer an opportunity to do so.

The United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), the AFL-CIO and an organization of Wal-Mart workers submitted the latest complaint to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Thursday, a spokeswoman for the UFCW said.

The ongoing dispute dates back to April, when Wal-Mart closed five stores in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and California citing the need for extensive plumbing and other repairs, affecting some 2,200 workers.

In its original complaint, the unions accused Wal-Mart of using the repairs as an excuse to close a store in Pico Rivera, California, in retaliation against workers there who have been active in attempts to organize for better pay and benefits. The other four stores were included as cover, they claimed.

In the second complaint, the unions claim that Wal-Mart had not offered to transfer the most vocal of the workers at the Pico Rivera store, a retaliation that it says is in violation of U.S. labor law.

“Wal-Mart has furthermore indicated that it will not rehire those employees who stood up and engaged in protected concerted activity when the Pico Rivera store reopens,” the labor groups wrote in the complaint.

Wal-Mart says it has been contacting former employees for possible rehiring as it prepares to re-open the stores.

“We’re now going through the hiring process to reopen our stores by the end of October or early November. Our goal is to rehire as many high performing associates as possible so we can serve our customers in these communities,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick.

Reporting by Nathan Layne, Editing by Andrew Hay and Ken Wills