Walmart has been repeatedly accused of retaliating against, and covertly monitoring, employees who have protested for improved conditions and higher wages. Now the nation’s largest retailer is reportedly warning employees to not download an app from a labor group that can be used for workers to connect and organize outside of Walmart’s gaze.
OUR Walmart, a group that was formerly backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, recently launched an Android app called WorkIt that lets Walmart workers ask questions — anonymously, if they choose — about company policy and employees’ rights. Some of those questions will be answered by humans, but the app has used IBM’s Watson technology to put together replies to hundreds of the most common questions a Walmart worker might have.
Registered users can also share stories and chat with each other. In that way, WorkIt is not that different from having a Facebook group, and there are a number of public and private groups like that already in existence.
Yet this app, only a few days into its existence, is apparently rubbing Walmart HQ the wrong way. So much so that the Wall Street Journal reports that the retailer is telling employees to not even download it.
According to the Journal, Walmart HQ sent a memo to store managers, instructing them to tell workers that the WorkIt app is just a scheme to collect employees’ personal information “by using deceptive and slick looking social media and mobile apps.”
Bloomberg quotes a statement from Walmart’s labor relations folks, explaining that “if someone tries to get you to download an OUR Walmart work-related app on your mobile device, you may unknowingly be giving away valuable personal information like your location and personal contact information that the union can use however it wants.”
But the app’s developers say that WorkIt doesn’t track users’ locations. On the app’s page in the Android store, it explicitly states, “Your location, contacts, photos, and/or any associated financial information stored on your mobile device is not accessed or used by WorkIt.”
“We’re not going to sell the data, ever,” clarifies one of the WorkIt creators to Bloomberg. “We will share it with researchers and use it to inform conversations with Walmart. But it’s not part of the revenue model.”
The company also contends that WorkIt may be providing inaccurate information.
“Our associates already have anytime-access online to the company’s most current and accurate Paid Time Off and Leave policies and there is no way to know if the details this group is pushing are correct,” says Walmart.
The folks behind WorkIt say what they’ve built has applications beyond Walmart, and that they hope to license the app to other labor groups and possibly even to companies that want to give their employees a way to communicate with each other.
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