Changes in Wal-Mart labor policy curtail Salvation Army bell ringing during holidays

Wednesday, December 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ It's a holiday tradition at Wal-Mart stores nationwide _ as cash registers ring inside, Salvation Army volunteers ring donation bells outside.

But this year the world's largest retailer is curtailing bell ringers' collection efforts because of strict labor laws requiring store access to all groups if they allow just one organization to solicit on their property.

Bell ringers now are limited to no more than 14 days at each store and no more than three days in a row. The policy also calls for them to stay outside and at least 15 feet away from store entrances.

Under the guidelines set the National Labor Relations Board for retailers nationwide, Wal-Mart would have to allow equal access to The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which has attempted numerous times to unionize Wal-Mart's workers.

Jill Cashen, a spokeswoman for the union, said her organization doesn't want to keep charities out of Wal-Mart.

``We do not at all discourage Wal-Mart from allowing bell ringers and charities in their stores, however, there are equal access laws,'' she said.

Wal-Mart says its workers do not need union representation.

Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., is fighting for changes in federal regulations to allow charitable solicitations at stores while keeping labor unions away. So far he has failed, but a Hutchinson spokesman said the efforts will continue.

In the meantime, Wal-Mart and the Salvation Army say they are making do with the revised policy, which Wal-Mart has said is carefully crafted to shield the company from lawsuits.

``The Salvation Army, for the most part, is using the holiday days and they are requesting Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays,'' Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sharon Weber said. ``They have been terrific about it, but of course they would like to be outside of the stores more often.''

Some Salvation Army chapters, especially those in rough-weather areas, would rather not be outside a Wal-Mart at all, but inside where it's warm. That's not allowed under the current policy.

Keith Bottjen, executive director of the Salvation Army in Casper, Wyo., said as recently as last week his ringers were forced to stand outside in single-digit temperatures with a foot of snow on the ground and high winds.

``We have to tie the kettles to the poles to keep them from blowing away,'' said Bottjen, who estimated holiday collections are down as much as $10,000 because of the policy.

``Our local Wal-Mart manager has been extremely cooperative, but he must follow the corporate policy. We are grateful to Wal-Mart because they could tell us that we couldn't be there at all,'' he said.

But Lt. Col. Tom Jones, spokesman for the Salvation Army's national headquarters in Arlington, Va., said the changes don't appear to have hurt fund-raising efforts overall.

Tom Foder, spokesman for the Salvation Army in northern New England, said bell ringers there don't mind the policy changes, even if it means being stuck outside during inclement weather.

``As far as the weather, that's just the hand you are dealt,'' he said.