The closing of five stores at once for the same ostensible reason was so unusual that conspiracy theories circulated: some were government-related and some were related to Walmart union-busting. Skeptics pointed out that Walmart hadn’t even filed for work permits for the theoretical plumbing work, and that it was extremely unlikely that five stores in different parts of the country had the same urgent plumbing problem at the same time, requiring the stores to close with only a few hours’ notice.
The store closures affected 2,200 people, some of whom followed their customers to other nearby Walmarts during the shutdown. Now the company is inviting these workers to return to the stores when they reopen, which a spokesman said will happen in late October or early November. The work isn’t done yet: “While we continue to conduct plumbing repairs and store upgrades, our goal is to begin serving customers by late October or early November,” a Walmart spokesperson told Reuters.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union is behind OUR Walmart, an organization that isn’t a union but has been helping Walmart’s “associates” to organize and ask for better treatment and pay. The union filed a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board about the closings, noting that one of the stores that closed, in Pico Rivera, California, was a center of OUR Walmart organizing. They speculate that the store was closed as a pretense to shut down workers’ organizing efforts, and other stores that had no union-ish activity were also closed, as “cover.”