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The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a trespassing decision that barred a labor union from soliciting for members at Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club stores nationwide. The court ruled that the world’s largest retailer failed to show irreparable harm from solicitations by members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. Bentonville, Ark.,-based Wal-Mart said it was still examining the order. “But in general, we remain committed to protecting our stores, associates and customers from aggressive and unsolicited actions,” spokeswoman Sarah Clark said. Al Zack, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based UFCW, said the court agreed with the union that Wal-Mart overreached in obtaining a nationwide injunction and by seeking to have the company’s no-solicitation policy enforced as if it were law. “It’s a clear victory for common sense and the rule of law,” Zack said. Wal-Mart, which has waged battles against unions across the country, filed suit in 1999 after the UFCW sent representatives to about 300 Supercenters around the nation. Wal-Mart claimed organizers were trespassing and harassing workers, among other things. A Fort Smith, Ark., judge in 2002 granted a permanent injunction prohibiting the union from soliciting in Wal-Mart, Sam’s Clubs and Neighborhood Market grocery stores in Fort Smith and across the United States. In its appeal, the union maintained Wal-Mart used a local judge to stifle free speech and suppress workers’ rights to organize. Though concurring with the 6-1 decision, Justice Robert L. Brown said he would have overturned the lower court ruling directly because the local judge issued a nationwide injunction, never acknowledging that trespassing laws vary from state to state. The lower court should have considered only the Wal-Mart stores in Arkansas and limited the scope of the injunction to this state, Brown said. Special Judge Janet K. Moore dissented, noting that besides Wal-Mart’s posted “no solicitation” policy, company lawyers notified union officials in writing that continued solicitation activities in stores would be considered an act of trespassing. After the injunction was issued, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman said that union organizers could still legally solicit on store parking lots, as other groups do, though the company requested advance notice. The union argued that charitable groups are allowed to solicit inside Wal-Mart and other stores and that union organizers should have equal access. Wal-Mart, with more than 3,400 domestic stores, has said its policy is to provide open communication between workers and management and sees no need for third-party representation. The UCFW has 1.4 million members in North America. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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