Saturday, August 2, 2008
The Wall Street Journal (81/1/08) reports that Wal-Mart has recently been summoning thousands of store managers and department heads to mandatory meetings warning about the dire consequences of a Democratic victory in November. The problem? Brace yourself. The Democrats will "likely change federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize companies–including Walmart."
According to the article, "The Wal-Mart human-resources managers who run the meetings don't specifically tell attendees how to vote in November's election, but makes 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."
Are these meetings legal? Don't expect the Bush administration to investigate on behalf of workers' rights–nor to back the Employee Free Choice Act, which Wal-Mart specifically fears.
The Employee Free Choice Act would give workers the right to unionize as soon as a majority signs cards stating that they want to join a union. Workers would also have the right to have a secret-ballot election. It's their "free choice"–one companies would have to honor.
According to the New York Times, "Labor officials say relying on signed cards rather than the traditional secret-ballot elections will make it easier for workers to unionize. Such elections frequently turn into months of battles between management and labor, with union supporters often being fired."
Naturally, John McCain joins George Bush in opposition to the legislation, which would help arrest the decline in union membership. Barack Obama is for it.
Wal-Mart claims 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." But Wal-Mart is the prototype for an company whose labor practices cry out for unionization, as meticulously documented by Wal-Mart Watch. Here are two among many examples:
"Health Care: Wal-Mart health insurance coverage lags far behind national average. Nationally, 64% of workers in very large firms (5,000 employees or more) receive their health benefits from their employer. Wal-Mart covers around 50% of its employees. [Employer Health Benefits 2007 Annual Survey, The Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust; Wal-Mart Press Release, 1/22/08]" (This section also focuses on "Letting Workers and Families Rely On Public Programs: "In 24 states, Wal-Mart leads the list of companies with the most employees and dependents enrolled in state-funded health care programs.")
"Labor Relations: Wal-Mart Violated Worker Rights More than 2 Million Times, Minnesota Judge Rules Wal-Mart violated the law more than 2 million times over a six-year period by denying workers time for breaks and forcing them to work "off the clock" for no pay, a Minnesota judge has ruled. Dakota County District Judge Robert King ordered the company to pay $6.5 million in back pay. In addition, Wal-Mart faces fines as high as $2 billion for the wage-and-hour violations. [Workday Minnesota, 7/2/08]"
In the video clip above, Christopher Hayes of The Nation talks with Keith Olbermann about the irony of Wal-Mart's tactics: the very fact that they're able to subject employees to anti-union propaganda demonstrates why workers must free themselves from such intimidation.