Wal-Mart suddenly closed five stores last week without warning, laying off more than 2,200 employees in the process.
The retailer said it temporarily closed the stores in California, Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida because of persistent plumbing issues that could take as long as six months to fix.
Each of the stores have had more than 100 plumbing issues over the last two years, the company said.
The closures have fuelled a bizarre conspiracy theory that the US military planned to enact martial law this summer, and use the shuttered Wal-Marts as “processing facilities.
But Wal-Mart employees have a different — and more plausible — theory about why the stores may have been closed.
They say Wal-Mart closed at least one of the stores — specifically, the store in Pico Rivera, California — in retaliation against workers protesting for better pay and working conditions.
The Pico Rivera store was the first Wal-Mart store in the US to go on strike in October 2012. Since then, the store has been a “hotbed” for labour activity, according to the UFCW, a labour group representing Wal-Mart’s laid-off workers.
The UFCW has filed a claim with the National Labour Relations Board demanding that the company rehire the employees.
“Walmart has targeted this store because the associates have been among the most active associates around the country to improve working conditions,” the claim says.
Business Insider has received dozens of emails from people claiming to be Wal-Mart employees who have supported this theory.
This isn’t the first time that Wal-Mart has been accused of retaliating against employees for unionizing or organising for better pay and working conditions.
Last year, Wal-Mart was found guilty of violating labour laws for closing a store in Canada during a standstill in negotiations with unionized workers. The store was among the first in Canada to unionize.
Wal-Mart was also accused of stifling labour activity in 2000, after a group of Wal-Mart butchers voted to unionize. One week after the vote, the company announced that it would stop cutting meat in stores and instead sell pre-packaged meats.
Wal-Mart says the closures have nothing to do with labour activity.
“The reason for the closures is to address the plumbing issues that we have at these stores,” Wal-Mart spokesman Lorenzo Lopez told Business Insider.
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