Saturday, August 2, 2008

"Attention Wal-Mart employees: Don't vote Obama or else!"

Wal-Mart has never been a union friendly company. Whenever a union has been successful in organizing a local at a store or group of stores the inevitable result is that the store is closed. There is a reason for this: Its 2.1 million employees are a powerful potential voting bloc, so it is most appropriate for the management in Bentonville, Arkansas to keep its army in line.

It's also no surprise that the vast majority of its corporate contributions go to the GOP, as well as to Democrats who support so called "right to work" laws that allow employees not to pay union dues in case a union is certified. (This is the exact opposite of the "Rand Formula" in Canada, where employees are required by law to pay the dues to ensure equal treatment by employers, although dissenters have the right to direct their dues to a charity. The term "agency shop" would describe a similar setup in the States.)

According to the Wall Street Journal (surprise!), top management at the company is telling its store managers and department supervisors that if the Democrats win in November there will be a big push to reform labour laws to make it easier for unions to sign up new members. At mandatory meetings, the WSJ states, those managers have been told that employees risk not getting paid at all during a strike (a lie, strike funds and unemployment insurance covers much of the gap); or that fewer jobs will be created as labour costs rise (also a lie, unions create employment); or that employees will be forced to pay huge dues for nothing in return (false again, unions always mean better benefits which on a cost basis are worth far more than the dues since those benefits are bought in group plans rather than individual ones).

The Associated Press later reported that Wal-Mart said it never told its managers how to vote, but that the legislation in question -- the Employee Free Choice Act -- is bad law because it would allow certification without a secret ballot vote. The legislation is co-sponsored by Barack Obama and opposed by John McCain. The company also insists that it donates to PACs that endorse candidates from both parties. Again, the question is to which kind of Republican, which kind of Democrat?

Now, personally, I do support the principle of a secret ballot for certification as well as for contract ratification and this is something that ought to be addressed. However, the current situation is even more untenable because it creates a climate of fear, fear of speaking out, fear of not wanting to seek something better. It's almost impossible right now to begin the process of certifying a union in many states, let alone get to the point where a certification vote can be held. And that is wrong. By fighting against a bill that would support union certification, no matter how it's constituted, the company makes the very point in favour of the law that it opposes.

Any way one cuts it, this is a public relations disaster for a company that has only recently tried to spruce up its public image on TV and radio (starting with those insidious "you won't have a better friend" ads on Paul Harvey News), including a new logo (uh, yeah) and improving working conditions such as with medical benefits (that are, to be fair, still rather sparse compared with what can be expected at a company with full benefits.) It's one thing to provide employees with information about how the status quo affects business, or how potential legislation could affect the same business. It's quite another to say how things will be if a party antithetical to a company's interests comes into power -- you may as well be campaigning for them and if that's the case, then the costs of suck picketing should count as a campaign expense against the party they actually do support.

If the company was hoping that its army would support McCain en masse, the opposite may very well happen. They may have ticked off enough employees to vote for Obama; especially in the South which has been a firewall for the Democrats since 1968.

(Walmart Watch continues to monitor this and other quirks about the world's biggest retailer and it is a site I highly recommend. They have a sample of what other bloggers are saying about this attempted vote suppression or rigging, depending on how you want to look at it.)

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