back to article Walmart spied on workers' Tweets, blogs before protests

Walmart has recruited aerospace, defence and security concern Lockheed Martin to comb open source intelligence in the lead up to Black Friday union protests, Bloomberg reports. The super-colossal retailer has a difficult history with unions and engaged the defence contractor to keep tabs on its employees in the run up to the …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Look for the union label!

    The author is clearly very pro-union and very very anti-Walmart. Tsk.

    1. DavidRa

      Re: Look for the union label!

      Would you be more or less outraged if it was the unions who had engaged LM to investigate Walmart so that the protests could be more successful? Is it fair for Walmart to boost sales and profits by undermining union action, if the unions are unable to reciprocate? Is it fair for the unions to boost the chances of a protest, sit-in or flash mob succeeding and stopping sales by undermining the company actions (which do of course employ thousands of people)?

      I don't know if the allegations of poor staff payment are true, but it seems to be consistent with other anecdotes I have heard about both Walmart and other US companies. Does that make the actions of either organisation more right or more wrong?

      It seems to me both sides cry foul if their "free speech" rights are impinged - regardless of whether those rights are actually rights at all (interpretation of the constitution is a art [sic]). It would seem to be rather self evident that unions really have improved worker conditions, regardless of whether those same unions have perhaps gone on to feather, gild and diamond-plate their own nests afterwards.

      1. dan1980

        Re: Look for the union label!


        Unions are an important part of the free market. Walmart are fully within their rights to use their size and resources to secure the best deals and outcomes for themselves and so unions should be able to do so too.

        Some of the behaviour on both sides is utterly reprehensible such that there is no high-ground to occupy but that's not universally the case.

        Unions are within their rights to use their legally-obtained information about Walmart to plan and coordinate their activities in order to have maximum effect and Walmart are within their rights to use their legally-obtained information to plan and coordinate their activities in order to lessen the effects of union activity.

        1. asheep

          Re: Look for the union label!

          Unions are an important part of a free market, unfortunately Walmart and Unions are not in a free market.

          Just to start with - there's no way Walmart doesn't get so big without subsidy in the form of reduced transport costs thanks to a government funded road system, or get to smooth over diseconomies of scale without the wholesale intervention in the economy, or offer such low prices without state intervention in the economies of many countries.

          For their part, Unions are highly regulated and hamstrung in their legal options by regulation designed to do just that, laws created at the behest of business and poltiicians scared of the labor movement (and of course, these regulations have benefitted Walmart, enabling its owners to reap the benefits).

          And the third portion of this story, Lockheed Martin? They are probably the biggest beneficiary of unfree markets, being a firmly entrenched part of the Military-Industrial-Congressional complex...

          Its all very well to say that ceteris paribus in a free market such actions are okay, but that ignores the reality that this is not a free market, and the power dynamics do not look remotely like those one might reasonably expect in a free market.

          1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

            @ asheep

            "there's no way Walmart doesn't get so big without subsidy in the form of reduced transport costs thanks to a government funded road system, or get to smooth over diseconomies of scale without the wholesale intervention in the economy, or offer such low prices without state intervention in the economies of many countries."

            Everything you mention there may or may not be true, but there is nothing in there that is dedicated to Walmart. Roads are available to all companies by definition, and yes, the government is supposed to take care of that because the alternative is roads created/maintained only by companies. You'd hardly have enough roads if that were the case.

            Wholesale intervention in the economy, whatever that is, is also done for the benefit of all companies. Unless you can prove that only Walmart benefits.

            As for "state intervention" in the economies of other countries, again, if one accepts the idea of the existence of such a thing, it is not only for Walmart. Apple is another company that benefits very well from other countries' economies.

            Your entire post feels very much one-sided and grasping at straws to me.

            1. Nunyabiznes

              Re: @ asheep

              And those "subsidized" roads that Walmart uses? That would be the same ones that the workers use to get to the job provided by Walmart. The same ones that the protesters used to get their busloads of placard carriers to the stores to protest.

    2. dan1980

      Re: Look for the union label!

      @Big John


      This article read as nearly 100% neutral to me. The 'nearly' part refers to the word 'spied' in the title though one can almost write that off as a simple attempt to make the article more click-able.

      I am pretty left-of-centre and support the idea of unions - in principle* - but this article was so neutral, it has me utterly unperturbed by Walmart's actions.

      Personally, I find the idea of monitoring your employee's social media comments to be a little unsavoury as a rule but it is very much public information and I think companies are within their rights to do so in order to protect their interests, which is what they have done here.

      I detected no note of judgement suggesting anything else.

      * - Though I do not belong to any union, nor have I ever directly engaged with one. I find that unions are an important part of the concept of free-enterprise because there's no reason why employees shouldn't be allowed to act en masse, so long as it's legal of course. But unions, of course, use that power to ill-effect and in doing so, become just much a problem as whatever it was they were trying to combat/stand-up against. A diversion, sorry.

      1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

        Re: Look for the union label!

        Read neutral here as well and to be honest, I'd be very surprised to not see such things happening at the corporate level. Each side games the others activities, it's almost a ballet of sorts.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Look for the union label!

          I agree, it's normal behavior.

          I might have over-reacted a little, sorry about that.

          1. WaveyDavey

            Re: Look for the union label!

            @Big John : come on, your behavior is absolutely unacceptable: posting a blatantly polite apology, and being reasonable is *not* the way things should be done here.

            Fulmination and bad manners from now on, please.

            1. Peter Simpson 1

              Re: Look for the union label!

              Not a big fan of WalMart, or the way they operate, but I can't see anything wrong with the article. I don't shop there on principle, and would be happy to see them unionized. There's a limit to the depths a company should sink, and my feeling is, WalMart has dropped below that limit.

    3. sisk Silver badge

      Re: Look for the union label!

      I've worked for Wal-Mart. Let me tell you that place could do with a union. It's pretty freaking disgusting that the most profitable company in the world hands its workers fliers on how to get food stamps instead of paying them a livable wage. And yeah, they actually do that, or at least the store I worked at did.

      1. Down not across Silver badge

        Re: Look for the union label!

        've worked for Wal-Mart. Let me tell you that place could do with a union. It's pretty freaking disgusting that the most profitable company in the world hands its workers fliers on how to get food stamps instead of paying them a livable wage. And yeah, they actually do that, or at least the store I worked at did.

        Whilst I don't disagree with your sentiment, I would like to point out that you may be mixing turnover with profit.

        Top of the profit list (looking at Forbes for example) seems to be littered with banks and oil and gas and for 2015 Wal-Mart isn't even in top 10 (not far off though).

  2. david 12 Bronze badge

    Spied on...

    In breaking news, patrons "spied on" a West End Musical at a performance last night, and from thousands of seats, punters "spied on" Justin Beiber performing at an arena concert.

    Next thing you know, people will be "spying on" tweets, blogs, web pages and other private communications.

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Given that it's Wal-Mart...

    and that I know people who work in management (store level) and also employees, this fighting has been going on for years. Management changes work rules apparently monthly, and the employees react, usually with bad morale. Right now, it's a lose-lose situation for both sides.

    A big part of the problem as I understand it, is that Sam treated his employees with respect. When he died, all that respect did also and the "new" management felt that they didn't need to respect the employees anymore as they were expendable. I would like to think that in this day and age, both sides have respect for the other but given what I've experienced over the years, this has changed and not for the good. The profit motive by upper management has become their total focus and everyone below them is grist for the mill.

    We have the likes of various activist investors, boards that don't think anything of massive layoffs and bringing in contractors who make a dog's breakfast of things. Employees so de-moralized they're all looking for another job. Unions are about all that's left to fight back and there's a price for that paid for by the employees and even the companies. Look to the auto industry (it's relatively easier) to find out about restrictive union work rules. A good example is what happened to Saturn automobiles.

    But who amongst us has not been in this boat? Or read the articles here on El Reg about employee treatment and upper management manglement?

  4. sabroni Silver badge

    Got enough money to hire Lockheed Martin

    but not to pay the people who actually run the business? Is your business model flawed or is your management just crap?

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Is your business model flawed or is your management just crap?

      Both, most likely.

    2. Crazy Operations Guy

      Re: Got enough money to hire Lockheed Martin

      And that would be the problem with publicly traded companies. Half the problem is that the people on the boards that are only interested in pumping the stock price by any means necessary, including lowering employee wages as low as possible (pretty much determined by lowering wages until you run into a labor shortage, or hit the minimum wage). The other half is the owners / executives that look the other way in exchange for massive paychecks (which usually end up being in the form of stock, providing a further incentive to pump stock prices). Especially to blame is the so-called 'activists investors' whose sole objective is to raise stock prices short-term and dump the stock once it hits a certain level and then moving onto the next company without even looking back to see the damage they've done.

      So with this situation, you end up with a company that only exists to make money for a select few who give just enough benefits to its employees to keep them from quitting and making products that are barely keeping customers satisfied.

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Gray

    Unionize this!

    Shelf-stocking robots and self-checkout lanes.

    1. sabroni Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: self-checkout lanes.

      Yeah, they always work well and never require the supervisor to come over and sort things out.

      1. Gnosis_Carmot

        Re: self-checkout lanes.

        1 "supervisor" and 4 self-check lanes is less expensive than 4 cashiers, especially at $15/hr + bennies.

        I actually like the self-checkout lanes in most cases - they tend to move faster and I don't have to listen to someone try to up-sell me a credit card(Target)/magazines(Best Buy)/extended warranty (virtually everywhere)

        1. John 104

          Re: self-checkout lanes.


          I despise them. 1 employee/4 registers. That's 3 people out of work. Yes, yes, there are some jobs created to develop, test, maintain the equipment, but this number doesn't come close to unskilled jobs being lost.

          They are convenient for the reasons you mentioned above, but I avoid them at all costs and would rather wait in line to interact with a human (and provide them a reason for being there).

          As for Walmart, they treat their employees poorly. Benefits offered if you work full time, but they keep the hours down so no one qualifies. Moving targets for schedules. Low pay. Who would want to work there?

          And, an anecdote. Years ago, the meat department workers at several WalMart stores attempted to unionize in an attempt to better their working conditions. WalMart's response was to shut down the meat departments. In ALL of its stores. Fuck WalMart.

          1. Ilmarinen

            Re: self-checkout lanes.

            Yes, I despise them too, for the reasons that you do.

            But I'm wrong to do so, for various reasons laid out by Tim Worstall (now sadly and ironically "laid off" by this rag).

            No doubt El Reg can replace his wisdom by something syndicated for free from The Conversation or whatever...

          2. 2+2=5 Silver badge

            Re: self-checkout lanes.

            > I despise them. 1 employee/4 registers. That's 3 people out of work.

            Quite. I felt particularly sorry for all those sailors put out of work by steam-ships.

  7. x 7 Silver badge

    "Walmart spied on workers' Tweets, blogs before protests"

    Monitoring and acting upon publicly available information such as tweets and blogs is NOT spying. FFS the posts are deliberately posted to be read. They don't come with headers saying "not to be read by management......."

    If they'd been encrypted and privately circulated and then hacked by Lockheed Martin then you may have a point. But all they did was analyse information that was in the public domain (or at least thats what the story says)

    That is not, by any meaning of the word, "spying"

    1. sabroni Silver badge

      Spy: One who secretly keeps watch on another or others

      You don't seem to understand what the word means. Spying is secretly watching, it doesn't matter where the person you're watching is. So unless they joined in on social media and made it clear they were listening it's not unreasonable to call it spying.

      1. caffeine addict Silver badge

        Re: Spy: One who secretly keeps watch on another or others

        Nonsense. People forget that posting to social media is a form of publishing and, unless you post privately, are available for anyone to read and act upon. You can't spy on graffiti or a newspaper - this is the same. If you put it out there for anyone to read, you can't cry foul when people read it.

  8. Michael Habel Silver badge

    How about...

    These whiners stop complaining, and get a real job? Oh that's right all the manufacturing Jobs went away, and Wally World is all that's left now.

    1. sabroni Silver badge

      Re: How about these whiners stop complaining, and get a real job?

      But they make so much money in management they'd be stupid to change before they've totally run the company into the ground....

    2. Crazy Operations Guy

      Re: How about...

      Oh right, because minimum wage workers were the ones who decided to move the factories overseas...

  9. ma1010 Silver badge

    Publicly available info

    I once worked for a company that was embroiled in a lawsuit. The owner of the company was being reviled by a group of people in a public forum on Compuserve (yes, it was a while ago). At the trial, our attorney brought in some of the posts to show the sort of (false) claims the opposition were making about our boss. The opposition strenuously objected to those posts being admitted into evidence, claiming they were "private." The judge didn't agree. He said that if they were on a forum open to the public, then they were clearly public information.

    Anyone who thinks tweets and blogs are "private information" needs to re-think things a bit.

    As for Wallmart, I have one a couple miles from my house. I've never been inside it. I won't shop there.

  10. banalyzer

    just out of curiosity

    Exactly how did Walmart monitor all their employees posts?

    Did they purchase the software from LM and feed it everyone who works for them?

    Did they give LM a full list of their employees to monitor?

    In the first case, this is both very paranoid and creepy, in the second they actually handed a 'private company' full details of their employees? see first case.

    What are, if any in the US, the legal implications of handing data such as this to a separate company?

    As an aside, I don't have FB or twit so don't know if you could search real names for handles but how would Walmart or LM find these?

    Spying does evoke a lot of internal emotion in a context such as this so consider this.

    Assuming Walmart does not have employee handles what techniques where used to obtain them by either Walmart or LM and would this not be spying?

    1. Crazy Operations Guy

      Re: just out of curiosity

      I'm sure that the contracts people signed when they agreed to work at Walmart included a provisions to allow an outside company to perform investigations on behalf of Walmart, so handing over an employee list would be perfectly legal. But that wouldn't even be necessary, since the protesters would be motivated to make the pages for coordinating the protest as accessible as possible (to get as many people to participate as possible). Its likely that these protests were organized via a Facebook group or some kind of twitter thread in which the protesters used their real names and probably have 'Employer: Walmart' on their profile pages, so LM would be providing a list of people protesting to Walmart (who would compare it to their employee list, thus side-stepping any possible legal issues with giving that list to a 3rd party).

      Or, possibly, LM employees posed as fellow Walmart employees / interested members of the public and joined the various groups (finding the groups by way of a google search for 'Walmart protest'). Its not like the protesters would be doing much in the way of background checks to prevent any adversary from gathering intel on them.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "difficult history with unions"

    Think the Wehrmacht and the Russian army, Stalingrad 1942-43.

    No guesses who's who.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As a union member...

    I'm thankful for:

    - Annual holidays

    - Sick leave

    - Carers leave

    - Workers compensation

    - 35 hour week

    - OHS

    - Pay rises

    - etc....

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