Wal-Mart: Political Bully
By Tala Dowlatshahi and David Sullivan
WOMAN: I’m not going to shop here anymore. That’s what I’m going to do. I won’t be back here anymore.
VOICEOVER: It seems Wal-Mart has found itself entrenched in another battle, this time over politics. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that Wal-Mart managers are being asked at staff meetings to encourage their associates and lower-level employees to vote for the Republican Party, claiming that a victory for the Democrats will put the company in financial jeopardy due to mandatory labor laws that will be enforced by the Democratic victor. Wal-Mart claims that high union dues will force the company to cut back on new staff hires and will overall make the current employees suffer greater financial ailments and increase costs for the consumer. The centerpiece of political discussions between Wal-Mart managers and their employees is the Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA, which seeks to establish stronger penalties for violation of employee rights and supports unionization. We contacted Wal-Mart to get a response to this story, and they pointed us to a press release on their Web site. David Tovar, Wal-Mart spokesman, stated, "We believe EFCA is a bad bill and have been on record as opposing it for some time. We feel educating our associates about the bill is the right thing to do." ANP was interested to know why the EFCA bill was being opposed by Wal-Mart, so we caught up with David Nassar, executive director of Wal-Mart Watch, a group set up to chronicle Wal-Mart’s abuses.
DAVID NASSAR, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WAL-MART WATCH: From their perspective, I would think, the bill is not good, because Wal-Mart has opposed unions for years in their stores, and anything that would therefore make it easier for employees to form a union would be a problem for them.
VOICEOVER: For years, Wal-Mart has gotten heat for its labor practices, but the reaction of Wal-Mart customers to the charges of political bullying suggest this time the retailer has gone too far. ANP headed over to Wal-Mart in Alexandria, Virginia, to ask shoppers what they thought about Wal-Mart’s political lobbying.
MAN: I don’t think anybody has the right to tell anybody who to vote for, period. And I believe that it’s in the best interest of employees to vote for candidates who will support labor-oriented issues.
WOMAN: I would tell Wal-Mart to stay out of voting, stay out of politics, because as the owners of the company, they choose who they vote for, but they don’t have the right to tell their employees who to vote for or which party to vote for.
MAN: I think Wal-Mart should stay out of politics. They’re a big company, and I think they’re using their power to influence their employees. I think they should let people vote how they want to. They can encourage them to vote, but not tell them which party to vote for.
MAN: The unions keep a lot of these big companies in check and protects the rights of workers. I mean, you’ve got a lot of first-generation immigrants that work at places like Wal-Mart. They probably are getting taken advantage of by a lot of people out there who are a little more savvy than they are, so why not let them have the representation of a union?
VOICEOVER: A 2005 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that, on average, when Wal-Mart opens its stores, wages for retail employees in that county dropped five percent. But don’t expect Wal-Mart to be more responsive to its workers any time soon. To boost its profits by one percent, Wal-Mart is seeking to reduce its contributions to the profit-sharing and 401(K) plans from four percent of wages to three percent. Wal-Mart’s anti-union position was expressed recently by a Fox News anchor in an interview with Cynthia Murray, a Wal-Mart employee.
CYNTHIA MURRAY, WAL-MART EMPLOYEE: We need more associates. And with more associates, we’d have more people that would be employed. So I think that would be win situation for all of us.
FOX NEWS ANCHOR: But, Cynthia, Wal-Mart has very low profit margins, and it all depends on how much its costs went up if a union took over in the company. So you can’t easily say that they can handle the cost. They have margin. And then the costs might go up to consumers, to people who shop there, if that’s where Wal-Mart has to make up the difference in the costs related to being unionized.
VOICEOVER: Wal-Mart is so opposed to labor rights, it’s gone even so far as to issue a manager’s toolbox to remaining union-free. The toolbox provides managers with lists of warning signs that workers might be organizing and gives managers a hot line to call so that the company’s specialists can respond rapidly and head off any attempt by employees to organize.
Actual Wal-Mart Instructional video
From The High Cost of Low Price
Courtesy Brave New Films
MAN: [inaudible] union [inaudible] all the unions [inaudible] cut out of my pay.
MAN: Yeah, take your money and spend it to help [inaudible] political campaigns, to help people I didn’t even vote for.
VOICEOVER: But just how greatly will Wal-Mart be affected by changing labor policies should a Democrat take the presidential seat next year? Could the company endure the extra financial burden of unionized employees? Wal-Mart is currently one of the world’s top twenty economies. It’s annual sales exceed the gross domestic products of countries including Israel, Norway, Poland, and Greece. It provides retail services to more than 100 million customers per week. The company earns an average of $288 billion yearly. Fortune estimated last year that each member of the Walton family is worth billions of dollars.
LEE SCOTT, CEO, WAL-MART: Think of the careers that get started in this company and the difference it makes.
VOICEOVER: Its current CEO, H. Lee Scott Jr., earns over $27 million per year, while the average Wal-Mart employee earns a little over $17,000—$4,000 below the poverty line for an average four-person family.
From The High Cost of Low Price
Courtesy Brave New Films
WELDON NICHOLSON: No matter what anybody says, they’re at poverty level. I watched so many people go without lunch in the lounges that I stopped eating in the lounges, because I just had my managers eating there, because I just couldn’t stand it. They just wouldn’t eat, and we weren’t allowed to offer them any money. And there are people I see that didn’t eat nothing; they’d take an hour lunch and just sit there.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.