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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unions Plan to Target Wal-Mart Worldwide

CHICAGO -- Representatives from some 900 unions said Tuesday that they would start organizing workers in several countries to pressure multinational companies like retailer Wal-Mart for better benefits and wages.

"We're trying to use globalization to raise working standards," Stephen Lerner, a director with the Service Employees International Union, said on the sidelines of an international union convention held in Chicago. "Global companies have global responsibilities," he added.

Union leaders representing 15.5 million workers are meeting this week from Monday to Thursday under the banner of Union Network International, a Swiss-based federation, to devise strategies to organize workers to press for better pay, health care and other benefits.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has for years resisted unionization of its 1.6 million workers, union representatives said.

The 1.4 million-member United Food and Commercial Workers union, based in Washington, has made Wal-Mart its main focus, Alan Spaulding, director of global strategies, said in an interview.

A spokesman from Wal-Mart did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The UFCW's goal is to organize workers at Wal-Mart in Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, Britain and Germany. Some workers in Brazil, Argentina and Germany are already unionized because of Wal-Mart acquisitions. The UFCW is also preparing to launch campaigns in Russia and India, where Wal-Mart is poised to expand.

"Wal-Mart and other companies are saying that they have to lower wages and cut benefits to be able to compete in the 21st century," Spaulding said. "We are determined to stop that race to the bottom."

SEIU's Lerner said his union, which represents workers such as janitors and security guards, is targeting Group4 Securicor, a British-based security company with many American clients.

The 1.8-million member SEIU said it would announce later this week five countries where it would launch organizing campaigns to pressure the company to allow its workers -- wherever they are -- to join the union.

The Teamsters union, which joined UNI this year, is currently holding talks with DHL, the logistics and express delivery business of Germany's Deutsche Post.

The Teamsters want an international agreement that would allow nonunion DHL contract drivers to organize in the United States, Thomas Keegel, the Teamsters' general secretary-treasurer, said in an interview. There are already 9,000 union workers in DHL, Keegel said.

"We are in a multinational corporate world," Keegel said. "We are asking for fairness ... and international organizing is the only way that it can be done."