A lengthy report from Bloomberg Businessweek details Walmart’s multi-pronged approach to keeping track of its employees in response to rising pro-union sentiment, like calling the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces when it learned that supporters of the Occupy movement might protest Walmart HQ.
The part that really caught our attention was Walmart’s use of Lockheed Martin, a company associated more with fighter jets than labor disputes.
But since 2011, the folks at Lockheed’s data analytics division have offered a product called LM Wisdom, which the company’s own brochure [PDF] markets as a tool for fighting things like drug/guns/human trafficking, organized crime, and gang violence, but which Walmart used in 2012 and 2013 to track Walmart staffers.
According to testimony in a recent National Labor Relations Board case involving Walmart’s alleged history of retaliating against employees who protest, the retailer’s global security division hired Lockheed leading up to Black Friday 2012 “to help source open social media sites.”
Lockheed analysts would follow the Twitter and Facebook feeds of employees and then report company-related activity back to Walmart HQ in Bentonville. The retailer was also kept up to date on the actions of non-employee organizers and activists who took part in protests. The defense contractor also helped prepare a map of likely routes for five “Ride for Respect” bus caravans destined for a protest at HQ.
While it may be creepy for Walmart to spend so much time and effort following the legally protected actions of its employees, there is nothing inherently illegal about tracking someone’s public social media feed. If you write something where anyone can read it, don’t expect your employer to turn a blind eye.
And some who were monitored tell Bloomberg they knew that Walmart was following their every public statement.
“I sent a couple of fake Tweets about where we would be or what we were doing. I don’t know if it worked,” says one employee who was fired in 2012 and is now working for OUR Walmart. “I wonder how people feel about Walmart wasting money by hiring Lockheed Martin to read my Tweets. I wouldn’t be happy about that if I was a shareholder.”
But if Walmart used this information for the purpose of punishing dissident employees, then it may have crossed the line. In 2014, the NLRB accused the retailer of retaliating against nearly 70 employees — 20 of whom were fired — who took part in the 2012 protests.
Walmart maintains these were not punitive measures against employees who exercised their right to protest, but were instead about enforcing the company’s attendance policies.
“We are firmly committed to the safety and security of our 2.2 million associates as well as the 260 million customers we serve each week,” Walmart said in a statement to Consumerist. “It’s important to remember that Walmart is the largest company in the world with 11,500 stores in 28 countries. Unfortunately, there are occasions when outside groups attempt to deliberately disrupt our business and on behalf of our customers and associates we take action accordingly.”
How Walmart Keeps an Eye on Its Massive Workforce [Bloomberg Businessweek]