union.jpgThere’s an odd war of words going on in the world of organized labor, and the New York Times and Wall Street Journal appear to be on two different sides.

The two newspapers had very different accounts of a worker movement at Walmart that has recently surfaced and is trying to get better wages and benefits from the retail giant. The group is called Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart.

Yesterday a story in the Times called OUR:

a new, nonunion group of Wal-Mart employees that intends to press for better pay, benefits and most of all, more respect at work.

But today, a story in the Journal on OUR called the group:

a new, union-financed organization and the latest salvo in the long and so far fruitless efforts by U.S. labor unions to organize the 1.4 million U.S. workers at the world’s largest retail chain.

Even the headlines of the two stories were diametrically opposed:

Times: Wal-Mart Workers Try the Nonunion Route

Journal: Wal-Mart Is Facing Latest Salvo From Union

No, the reporters of these stories haven’t lost their minds. Times reporter Steven Greenhouse, and Journal reporters Miguel Bustillo and Kris Maher are all very good at what they do. But the problem here points to how loaded the word “union” is in our country. It’s loaded not just to employers but to employees as well.

Americans largely don’t get a warm fuzzy when they hear the word union, and OUR’s attempt to try to distance itself from the word, even though the organization appears to be very much a union concept, sans collective bargaining, and union backed, are not surprising.

Workers want better pay and better working conditions, but ask them if they want to be part of a union to get those things and many act like they’re above it, especially those in industries that aren’t traditionally unionized such as retail and office jobs.

According to a Pew poll most of us just don’t like unions:

Favorable views of labor unions have plummeted since 2007, amid growing public skepticism about unions’ purpose and power. Currently, 41% say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions while about as many (42%) express an unfavorable opinion. In January 2007, a clear majority (58%) had a favorable view of unions while just 31% had an unfavorable impression.

It’s sort of like the word feminist. Feminism is about giving women equal opportunities and who doesn’t want that, especially we gals. But using the word has become very much like the “F” word even to women. Can you say feminazi? Thanks Rush.

But back to unions and the very different slants of one story. Yes, the Times and Journal have their political agendas — one more pro worker and one more pro business. Clearly, how OUR is labeled will impact its success going forward and the reporters and editors at both publications know that.

OUR wants to be seen as something new, something hip for the Facebook and Twitter generation. It’s unclear whether they can pull it off.

Alas, hard-fought union battles in U.S. factories for better wages and better treatment just don’t make for interesting tweets. But the new-age tweets from OUR sound eerily familiar:

We are going to be seen and heard. It is about respect, change and it is about time! #forrespect

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