Chris Morran of The Consumerist reports on a mystery: “Walmart Raises Suspicions After Closing 5 Stores in Same Day for ‘Plumbing’ Problems.”
There are thousands of Walmarts in the U.S., so the fact that five of them were temporarily shut down all on the same day, all for the same reason, and all for the same estimated amount of time, may be statistically insignificant. But some workers and city officials are raising questions about what’s actually behind these six-month shutterings.
The five stores — two in Texas, one in California, one in Oklahoma, and another in Florida — were all closed on Monday without advance notice to shoppers or the thousands of affected employees. At each of the stores, the reason given for the closures — which are estimated to last upwards of six months — was problems with plumbing.
But it seems no one at those stores was aware of these plumbing problems. “No plumbing permits have been pulled in any of the municipalities where Walmart closed stores on Monday.” Walmart’s own local plumbing technicians don’t know what this is about. And the plumbing inspector from Midland, Texas, was actually “sent away when he tried to visited the closed store earlier this week to help them secure necessary permits.”
Hmm. Five stores abruptly closed due to “plumbing problems.” But pretty clearly not due to plumbing problems.
The likeliest explanation for this mystery isn’t all that mysterious. This smells like a (possibly illegal) lockout designed to squelch worker protests:
Some employees at [the Pico Rivera, California] store are questioning the motive, as it’s been a focal point of the pro-union OUR Walmart movement, and was the first location to stage a wage-related walkout back in 2012.
Ah. This appears to be a bit of union-busting, or — since the OUR Walmart movement isn’t actually a formal union — proto-union-busting. Walmart isn’t calling in plumbers, they’re calling in Pinkertons. If so, the only “plumbers” involved are plumbers only in the Nixonian, Watergate sense of the term.
Walmart has a long history of closing stores to avoid any hint of union activity. The company closed a Quebec store shortly after its workers voted to join the UFCW in 2004. When a Colorado Walmart worker organized a union vote that same year, the company transferred in anti-union workers to swing the vote.
And do you know why you can’t get fresh cut meat at a Walmart? It’s because back in 2000, the butchers at a Texas store voted to join UFCW Local 540. “Two weeks later, Walmart close[d] its 180 meat counters and switche[d] to prepackaged cuts only.”
So, yeah. The surprise closing of five stores Monday probably isn’t a mystery. And it probably ain’t about plumbing.
All of this is pretty depressing. The game is rigged and the deck is stacked and workers have little recourse to organize or negotiate. Even asking for a voice or a seat at the table invites swift, harsh retaliation.
But allowing ourselves to get depressed, or to despair, just guarantees that nothing can ever change. We can’t pursue any course of action for worker justice unless we start to believe that something better is possible. And we can’t start to believe that if we let ourselves get depressed and dismayed and disheartened by this latest bit of depressing, dismaying and disheartening news.
So here’s an idea to cheer us up a bit before we even start to think about responses like consumer boycotts, demonstrations, Pete Seeger sing-ins, or legislative campaigns.
Let’s try to imagine some other possible explanations for the “mystery” of Walmart’s sudden outbreak of “plumbing problems.” What was going on in those stores? Or, perhaps, beneath those stores? Were these closures an attempt to keep some dark secret? Were they necessary to keep the public — the world — safe from something else, something it couldn’t possibly understand?
Bonus points for references, allusions or derivations from any of the following: The X-Files, Men in Black, Chuck, The Thanatos Syndrome, Torchwood, Warehouse 13, Stargate, H.P. Lovecraft, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and/or Three Days of the Condor.