May 15 (Reuters) - Weeks after Wal-Mart Stores Inc was accused of shuttering a California store to stop workers from organizing, the company said it would seek permits to rip up floors and replace plumbing lines as part of significant repairs at five stores that justified their abrupt closure.
Wal-Mart's move last month to temporarily close the stores triggered a union-backed complaint to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that is still pending.
In the complaint the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union accused Wal-Mart of using plumbing problems as an excuse to close a store in Pico Rivera, California, in retaliation against workers there who have been active in attempts to organize for better pay and benefits. The other four stores were included as cover, the union claimed.
Wal-Mart, which has denied the claims, said on Friday that it was ready to begin requesting permits for the extensive work it says is needed at the five stores, which include locations in Florida, Texas and Oklahoma. The construction will include installation of new sanitary plumbing lines, replacing ripped-up floor slabs and new refrigeration equipment, it said.
Wal-Mart also said that it would extend severance pay to part-time workers who were among the roughly 2,200 employees impacted by the closings. Under normal policy severance would only be paid to full-time workers, the company said.
"Given the unique circumstances of the temporary closures, we continue to focus on our associates and have added benefits and made a series of policy exceptions," company spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said in a statement to Reuters.
Lopez said more than half of the workers that had applied for transfers to local area stores had received them.
He said the company was planning to reopen the stores within the next six months, in time for the year-end holiday shopping season.
With its complaint the UFCW is seeking injunctive relief to have all employees reinstated or transferred to other stores without loss of pay.
Wal-Mart had previously said each of the five locations had more than 100 plumbing problems over the last two years, the most among its 5,000-plus U.S. stores. It said issues at the Pico Rivera location included clogged drains with water flowing onto the sales floor, and that the local health regulator downgraded the deli department in January as a result of the problems. (Reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Ted Botha)