"Back when I was in a union, I was just a number," laughs a man in a Wal-Mart Stores training video. "If a union got in here," he adds, "every benefit we got could go on the negotiating table. ... And with all our benefits, we'd risk losing a lot." The video is part of a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, "Discounting Rights: Wal-Mart's Violation of US Workers' Right to Freedom of Association." The report details ways in which Wal-Mart, the largest private U.S. employer, discourages employees from unionizing. Legal tactics include showing new employees presentations like the videos, with "heavy 'spin' on purported drawbacks" to unions. Illegal tactics include having managers eavesdrop on employees, repositioning "surveillance cameras to monitor union supporters," disciplining "union supporters for policy violations that it has let slide for union opponents," and firing workers for union activity. From 2000 to 2005, the National Labor Relations Board found Wal-Mart guilty of 15 cases of illegal conduct; seven of the giant retailer's competitors collectively had four rulings against them over the same period. Yet, HRW warns, "penalties under US labor law are so minimal that they have little deterrent effect."
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