Some employees accused Wal-Mart Stores Inc on Friday of closing a location in the Los Angeles area for six months in retaliation for workers demanding for better wages and benefits.
The largest U.S. retailer denied the accusation, saying it was temporarily closing five stores in four states to address recurring plumbing problems. The closures include a location in Pico Rivera, California, that has been a center of protests by workers in recent years.
A group of employees backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union described the move as "retaliatory" in a statement and said it would hold a news conference on Monday to lay out its case. Wal-Mart had not requested any city plumbing permits for the Pico Rivera store, the workers and city officials said.
Pico Rivera City Manager Rene Bobadilla described the sudden manner in which the company closed the store as "abnormal" but said the city had offered its help to expedite the work needed to be done to get the store open again.
"It’s the first time I’ve encountered this. It is not a normal thing to happen," Bobadilla said. He declined to comment further on Wal-Mart's actions. "The only fact is they are saying they have a sewer problem and they are going to be closed for six months."
Bobadilla said he was focused on helping the 533 employees impacted by the closure to find work and services.
Wal-Mart said in an emailed statement that it made the decision to close the Pico Rivera location and four other stores because they all required extensive repairs.
"Our goal, of course, as a business is to keep our stores open and serving customers," the company said. "We understand this decision has been difficult on our associates and our customers and we aim to reopen these stores as soon as these issues are resolved and improvements are made."
Wal-Mart recently announced plans to hike its minimum hourly wage to at least $9 an hour nationally as part of a $1 billion investment in better pay and benefits for its employees. That move sparked several other retailers to raise wages, although labor advocates have said they want more.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Chicago; Editing by Peter Henderson and Lisa Shumaker)