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)