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Wal-Mart: A Supercenter divided 

Last month, nine "associates" at Cañon City's Wal-Mart Supercenter signed cards authorizing the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) to represent them in collective bargaining. But according to two of the card signers, their nascent campaign to unionize was crushed before it began.

The UFCW placed advertisements for an April 30 open informational meeting for Wal-Mart workers in Cañon City's Daily Record newspaper to answer questions about union organizing. But the get-together was besieged with anti-union associates who screamed at UFCW organizer Norberto Ricardo and pro-union associate Patrice Matthes for "trying to ruin their company."

Cashier Tom Barton supported the union because, as he says, "The pay sucks." Barton has worked as a cashier at the Cañon City Supercenter since September.

"We're paid lower than any other store in our region, less than Pueblo, Salida, the Springs and our prices are the same or higher," Barton said. "Everybody complains about management but nobody wants to do nothing."

The UFCW claims the starting wage at the Supercenter is $6.25, or 75 cents an hour less than in Pueblo.

Bentonville, Ark. based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is the largest private employer in Colorado, the United States and the world. None of its 3,418 U.S. stores have been unionized, though activists are currently waging campaigns in Nevada, Michigan and other states..

According to Barton and his fellow associate Patrice Matthes, Wal-Mart recently flew in Kirk Williams from the "people division" of its Bentonville headquarters to hold hour-long meetings with Cañon City associates.

"They mostly just bashed the UFCW," said Matthes. "If you sign that card [to authorize union representation] it's like giving the UFCW a blank check -- that was the message."

The United Food and Commercial Workers represent 22,000 grocery workers at Kroger, Safeway and Albertson's supermarkets in Colorado.

Both Barton and Matthes describe their fellow associates as scared of losing their jobs, but the UFCW's Ricardo claimed they were still pursuing the campaign to unionize.

Patrice Matthes suspects that the anti-union associates who disrupted the April 30 meeting were goaded by management.

"They happened to have the very same newspaper articles in their pockets that the manager was waving around in the (anti-union) meetings," said Mattes.

Cañon City Supercenter manager Sean O'Brien was unavailable for comment. Calls and e-mails to Wal-Mart's public relations department in Bentonville were unanswered as of press time.

-- John Dicker

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