Wal-Mart Politics

Wal-Mart HeadquartersThe Wall Street Journal has reported that in recent weeks thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the company stressed the downside for workers if its stores were to be unionized. Wal-Mart is telling its managers and supervisors that a presidential victory by Sen. Barack Obama could hurt the company, giving the labor movement new life and encouraging unionizing efforts. Wal-Mart worries that a bill supported by the Democratic Party is more likely to pass if the Democrats win the White House in November, making it easier for workers to unionize by signing a card rather than holding a vote. Barack Obama, a co-sponsor of the original bill, the Employee Free Choice Act, has called for passage of the act. Last June, Republican presidential nominee John McCain voted against it.

Wal-Mart, which has kept its U.S. stores union-free, stressed that it was not telling employees how to vote. However, The Wall Street Journal reported that about a dozen employees who attended meetings in seven states said executives had told them that unionization could force Wal-Mart to cut jobs as labor costs rise, and that employees would have to pay hefty union dues and get nothing in return. The Journal said Wal-Mart human-resources managers who run the meetings did not specifically tell attendees how to vote in November’s presidential election, but that they made it clear that voting for Barack Obama would be tantamount to inviting unions in.

A Wal-Mart customer-service supervisor from Missouri recounted; “The meeting leader said, ‘I am not telling you how to vote, but if the Democrats win, this bill will pass and you won’t have a vote on whether you want a union,'” She went on to say, “I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote.”

Wal-Mart was quick to march out its spin-meisters.

“If anyone representing Wal-Mart gave the impression we were telling associates how to vote, they were wrong and acting without approval,” said Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar. “We believe EFCA is a bad bill and we have been on record as opposing it for some time. We feel educating our associates about the bill is the right thing to do.”

Wal-Mart may be walking a fine legal line by holding meetings with its store department heads that link politics with a strong anti-union message. Federal election rules permit companies to advocate for specific political candidates to its executives, stockholders and salaried managers, but not to hourly employees. While store managers are on salary, department supervisors are hourly workers.

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.

The development could damage Wal-Mart’s reputation, just as the company has started seeing its image improve and criticism diminish as it works to improve benefits and push through its “Save money, live better” campaign.

Maybe Wal-Mart feels that it has such a stranglehold on the U.S. economy that it can hold meetings and tell people how to vote. One assumes they feel safe from any kind of fall-out, to have held such meetings in the first place. In their arrogance, they believe, perhaps rightly so, that their customers have no choice but to shop at Wal-Mart, and are unlikely to take their business elsewhere. Either way, it would seem nothing has changed at Wal-Mart. They are still a company with a sweat-shop mentality, that believes it can pay its employees peanuts for wages, with little in the way of benefits or healthcare programs. Is anyone really surprised that Wal-Mart believes it can also tell its employees how to vote?

Maybe Wal-Mart should stop dancing around and trying to fool us into believe they give a shit. They should just change their slogan to what they’re really saying after all.

“Save Money. Live Better. Vote Republican.”

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