In a move that has been unsuccessful elsewhere in the United States, 17 workers at a Wal-Mart Tire & Lube Express have taken the first step to unionize at the world's largest retailer.
The National Labor Relations Board planned a hearing Thursday to consider the workers' request to be represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7.
"Wal-Mart workers don't have to be second-class citizens," said Ernest Duran Jr., president of the union, which also represents more than 17,000 grocery workers at King Soopers, Safeway and Albertsons stores.
Union officials argue the workers in the automotive service department are separate from the store and eligible for independent union representation. Wal-Mart officials disagree.
"With approximately 400 associates in that particular facility, we feel that more than 17 associates should have a say on such an important matter," said Christi Gallagher, a spokeswoman for Bentonville, Ark-based Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart said it treats its workers fairly and has an open door policy that lets each negotiate directly with management.
"Our associates see they don't have to pay hard earned money to do what they can do every day," she said.
The union is in negotiations with the Colorado grocery stores, which have cited competition from nonunion discount chains such as Wal-Mart in offering wage and benefit increases that have been rejected by workers.
Efforts to unionize Wal-Mart stores in the United States have failed, while in Canada, a government agency this year certified workers at a Quebec store as a union and told the two sides to negotiate. Wal-Mart has said it may have to close that store.
In the United States, the closest a U.S. union ever came to representing Wal-Mart workers happened in 2000. Eleven members of the store's meatpacking department at Jacksonville, Texas, store voted to be represented by the UFCW.
In a move it said was unrelated to the union vote, Wal-Mart eliminated the job of meatcutter company-wide, and announced it would only sell pre-cut, pre-wrapped meat.
The workers were offered other jobs at the store.