Wal-Mart facing strike threat as it gears up for 'Black Friday' frenzy

New York

The retail giant Wal-Mart is facing the threat of strikes at its discount stores this week, with workers seeking better wages and benefits planning to protest on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.

Traditionally the busiest period in the US shopping calendar, when retailers lure customers with rock-bottom prices, sales beginning on the evening of the Thanksgiving holiday and extending into the weekend attracted more than 200 million shoppers last year, according to figures from the National Retail Federation.

Another shopping frenzy is expected this year – but it could prove painful for Wal-Mart, after the US labour regulator delayed a decision on whether or not to block the protests which are planned at around 1,000 store locations at the end of the week, usually the most lucrative day of the sales.

The company – whose chief financial officer, Charles Holley, last week called Black Friday the "super bowl" for retail – had asked the National Labour Relations Board to step in and halt what it claimed were unlawful attempts by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union to disrupt its business.

But ahead of the sales, the labour regulator said it was unlikely to make any decision before today's Thanksgiving holiday owing to the complexity of the dispute.

"The legal issues – including questions about what constitutes picketing and whether the activity was aimed at gaining recognition for the union – are complex," the board said in a statement on Tuesday.

The planned strikes are the latest in a series for the retailer, which has faced months of protests as workers argue for better pay and health benefits.

In the latest altercation, Wal-Mart itself has also been the subject of a labour board complaint from Our Walmart, the union-backed organisation which has been staging the protests. It claimed that the retailer was illegally attempting to deter workers from taking part in the Black Friday strikes.

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