The opening of a Walmart Neightborhood Market in San Ramon last month is one of the reasons some Walmart workers went on strike at five Bay Area stores on Tuesday, union organizers said.
A handful of workers at five Bay Area Walmarts — in San Leandro, Richmond, Oakland, Fremont and San Jose — are at the center of a historic effort to organize Walmart, which has been non-union for 50 years.
At publication time Walmart had not yet replied to an interview request.
The local walkouts are part of a symbolic nationwide campaign involving 28 stores in a dozen states, all coordinated by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW).
Mike Henneberry, spokesperson for UFCW Local 5 in San Jose, offered the union's story.
Henneberry said the walkouts are designed to call attention to the organizing effort. There are no plans to walk picket lines because the union hasn't gotten to that point, he said.
The UFCW is focusing on the Bay Area because that's where Walmart is just starting to open a new category of smaller stores -- Walmart Neighborhood Markets -- that will compete directly with unionized grocers such as Safeway and Lucky, Henneberry said.
Walmart operates about 167 of these smaller stores nationwide but the first Neighborhood Market in Northern California opened last month in San Ramon.
Walmart plans to opened another store in San Jose in October and another Neighborhood Market in Pleasanton mid-2013.
The UFCW was particularly irate about Walmart's decision to build such a store in Pleasanton because that city is headquarters to unionized Safeway.
"Walmart's new move into the traditional grocery store sector is a departure in tactics on their part and a direct threat to our members," UFCW Local 5 President Ron Lind said in February when the Pleasanton store was up for consideration.
The Pleasanton city council approved Walmart's plans by a 4-1 vote.
A UFCW spokeswoman said many of the workers involved in today's walkout are meeting in Walmart's headquarters city of Bentonville, Arkansas, to plan their next steps.
Are you a Walmart shopper? Have you been to the Neighborhood Walmart in San Ramon? What do you think of the organizing effort?