Walmart's OK With You Getting Gay-Married, But You Still Can't Unionize

Good news on the labor front — for once — from Walmart. The retail chain will offer domestic partner benefits as well as benefits to same-sex spouses, according to an internal memo obtained by Towleroad.

The memo, which was distributed to members of its LGBT employee group on Monday, specifically cites the Supreme Court's Defense of Marriage Act decision as a reason for the policy change.

"We operate in 50 states, hundreds of municipalities, and Puerto Rico, and as clarified under the Supreme Court's decision regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), each of these states are developing different definitions of marriage, domestic partner, civil union, etc.," the memo read. "By developing a single definition for all Walmart associates in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, we are able to ensure consistency for associates in various markets."

The document went on to cite this change as essential "[i]n order to remain competitive in terms of attracting and retaining great talent to our company."

In its 2013 Corporate Equality Index, an evaluation of how LGBT-friendly top corporations are, the Human Rights Campaign gave Walmart a score of 60 out of a possible 100. Thirteen of the top 20 Fortune-ranked companies got a perfect score.

Walmart took the top spot on the Fortune 500 rankings in 2013, but the HRC penalized it for the company's lack of same-sex partner benefits and transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage, among other things. The memo made no mention of expanding existing coverage to be transgender-inclusive as well.

But though Walmart's treatment of LGBT employees ignited a firestorm in 2007, its labor disputes have a much longer history. The company's labor practices have even earned it a Criticism of Walmart Wikipedia page, which details alleged abuses by the company.

Also in 2007, Human Rights Watch published a scathing 210-page report on the giant's labor practices. The Guardian reported on what it documented:

American store bosses get a "manager's toolbox" - a manual which openly describes itself as a guide on "how to remain free in the event union organisers choose your facility as their next target."

They are told to phone a special "union hotline" if they suspect staff. Teams of union busters are then sent from Wal-Mart's Arkansas headquarters who regale workers with vitriolic presentations on the perils of unionisation.

The company's ban on unions was largely successful:

In a breach of US law, Wal-Mart has allegedly banned union organisers from distributing flyers outside its stores and has confiscated literature found on the premises. Since Wal-Mart began in 1962, there has only been one successful formation of a union - among meat cutters in Texas seven years ago. The department was subsequently shut down - an act ruled illegal by US labour authorities.

Earlier this week, current and former Walmart employees were arrested in Washington, D.C. while protesting working conditions. They said they were standing up for workers who had been fired after taking part in high-profile strikes, a charge that Walmart officials denied.

"No associate has ever been retaliated against at Walmart for raising concerns, nor would they be," a Walmart spokesperson told The Huffington Post.