NEW YORK Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) said on Friday it has warned U.S. store managers in recent weeks about the possible consequences of a labor-friendly bill backed by Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama that would make it easier for workers to form unions.
But the retailer, which has kept its U.S. stores free of unions, stressed it was not telling employees how to vote.
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 do not specifically tell attendees how to vote in November's presidential election, but they make it clear that voting for Obama would be tantamount to inviting unions in.
"If anyone representing Wal-Mart gave the impression we were telling associates how to vote, they were wrong and acting without approval," Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar said.
Wal-Mart opposes proposed legislation called the Employee Free Choice Act that would make it easier for workers to unionize, by signing a card rather than holding a vote.
Obama, a co-sponsor of the original bill, has called for passage of the act. Last June, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain voted against it.
"We believe EFCA is a bad bill and we have been on record as opposing it for some time," Tovar said. "We feel educating our associates about the bill is the right thing to do."
Wal-Mart has long been the target of union-backed groups that criticize the retailer for everything from its pay practices to its health care benefits.
News of the store manager meetings drew the ire of Wal-Mart critic groups Wal-Mart Watch and WakeUpWalMart.com, as well as the AFL-CIO labor federation.
"Wal-Mart has once again been exposed for what it really is: a corporation that will go to any length to put profits ahead of its workers," Meghan Scott, spokeswoman for WakeUpWalMart.com, said in a statement.
"Wal-Mart has talked a lot about changing its ways on health care, the environment and workers rights, but this article shows that all that talk hasn't translated into action," she said.
(Reporting by Nicole Maestri; editing by Ted Kerr)