Hat Tip: By CHUCK BARTELS AND ANNE D’INNOCENZIO, AP
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, denied a report Friday that it had pressured employees to vote against Democrats in November because of worries that a bill the party supports would make it easier for workers to unionize.
The measure, called the Employee Free Choice Act, would allow labor organizations to unionize workplaces without secret ballot elections. It was co-sponsored by Barack Obama, the presumed Democratic presidential candidate, and opposed by John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee.
A report in The Wall Street Journal said the Bentonville, Ark.-based discounter — which has rigorously resisted being unionized — had held mandatory meetings with store managers and department supervisors in recent weeks to warn that if Democrats take power in November, they would likely push through the bill, which the company says would hurt workers.
Wal-Mart spokesman Dave Tovar told The Associated Press that the company did discuss the bill with its employees, including what it sees as the negative impact, and noted that the company’s stand on the legislation is no secret.
“We believe the Employee Free Choice Act is a bad bill and we have been on the record as opposed to it,” he said.
But he said the company wasn’t advocating that its employees vote against backers of the legislation.
“If anyone representing Wal-Mart gave the impression… they are wrong and acting without approval,” said Tovar. In fact, he said that Wal-Mart has been working with both Republicans and Democrats.
“Half of our (political action committee) contributions are to members of each party,” Tovar said. “We regularly educate our associates on issues which impact our company, and this is an example of that.”
The reported actions by Wal-Mart raised concerns among labor groups that the company, the nation’s largest private employer with 1.4 million workers, has the power to exert influence in the elections.
“They’re trying to bully the American political” scene, said Stewart Acuff, assistant to the president of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor organization.
Wal-Mart may also be on thin ice as federal election rules allow businesses to push for specific political candidates to shareholders, executives and salaried managers, while prohibiting such actions for hourly workers, which typically include department supervisors.
The Wall Street Journal cited about a dozen unidentified Wal-Mart employees who had attended such meetings in seven states as saying they were told that employees at unionized shops would have to pay big union dues while not receiving any benefits in return.
Furthermore, workers said they were told that unionization would mean job losses as costs rise, according to the report. The report said the Wal-Mart human resource managers who held the meetings didn’t specifically tell the employees how to vote, but made it clear that a Obama victory would mean unionization.
Wal-Mart Watch, a union-backed group that has criticized the company for what it calls skimpy pay and benefits and poor treatment of its workers, said in a statement that the article “demonstrates once again that Wal-Mart intimidates its workers.” The group, which supplied some of the sources to The Wall Street Journal, said the stories cited in the article are “consistent” with numerous reports it has received in the past week.