Friday, August 01, 2008

Wal-Mart pressuring its employees to vote Republican

I've posted before that I have no love lost for Wal-Mart, which is in trouble every year it seems for various exploitative labor practices. In the past decade or so, Wal-Mart has been caught violating child labor laws, hiring illegals for $2/night to clean its stores, discriminating against female employees, forcing employees to work on their lunch breaks and sending out a memo on how to get rid of employees who have six years working with the company in order to deny them retirement benefits they would have become eligible for when they hit the seven year mark. In most of these cases they've either had to pay a fine or settled out of court, though in the gender discrimination class-action lawsuit they took it all the way through and lost.

And that's not even counting the non-illegal things they've done, including buying products produced in foreign sweatshops, selling products in targeted communities at below cost in order to force local small business competitors out of business, giving employees welfare applications as part of their 'benefits' package, going so far as to close entire stores in order to avoid unionization and only grudgingly, after many years, agreeing to offer health insurance once several states passed legislation which for all practical purposes forced them to.

But now they've gone to a new level: telling their employees how to vote. Oh, of course they say they are NOT telling them how to vote, before telling them how to vote.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is mobilizing its store managers and department supervisors around the country to warn that if Democrats win power in November, they'll likely change Federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize companies-- including Wal-Mart.

In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside for workers if stores were to be unionized.

According to about a dozen Wal-Mart employees who attended such meetings in seven states, Wal-Mart executives claim that employees at unionized stores would have to pay hefty union dues while getting nothing in return, and may have to go on strike without compensation. Also, unionization could mean fewer jobs as labor costs rise....

The Wal-Mart human-resources managers who run the meetings don't specifically tell attendees how to vote in November's election, but make it clear that voting for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama would be tantamount to inviting unions in, according to Wal-Mart employees who attended gatherings in Maryland, Missouri and other states.

"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,'" said a Wal-Mart customer-service supervisor from Missouri. "I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote," she said.

It should also be pointed out that Wal-Mart is possibly in violation of the law with these meetings: 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.

Of course they've been in violation of many laws before and seem to consider the resulting fines to just be part of the cost of doing business.

Now, I know, I know. If you are a conservative your knee-jerk reaction to Wal-Mart pressuring its employees in this way will probably be viscerally positive (i.e. it depends on whose ox is getting gored.) So let me turn it around for you:

Suppose that a publically funded institution were to do the same thing. Suppose for example that employees of a public school were called together and told (by their immediate supervisor, who incidentally has a lot of say about their continued employment) that "I'm not telling you how to vote but you should know that if Republicans win in November then we may face massive budget cuts, so that some of you may lose your jobs or take pay cuts, and you may be forced to work under more difficult conditions. Now remember, I'm not telling you how to vote, but you should understand that this is what will happen if Republicans win the election."

If that happened at a school then you'd be screaming bloody murder. You know you would.

Wal-Mart has the right to donate to political campaigns (which they do, heavily), lobby elected officials for or against legislation and even create a 527 or other organization to advertise directly to the public on political issues (which is fair enough, given that unions do the same thing.) As a publically traded company they can even contact all their shareholders and disseminate their political propaganda.

However forcing their employees to attend a mandatory meeting run by their supervisor for the specific purpose of telling them that voting for Barack Obama may cost them their jobs is both illegal and unethical.

1 comment:

Robert Rouse said...

When I first saw this story, I was outraged, but then I started thinking about how many times Wal-Mart employees have tried to start a union and failed and a little smile appeared on my face.