Labor Takes on Wal-Mart on Election Law Violations By Joel Wendland Charging multinational retail giant Wal-Mart

with illegally pressuring employees to vote for Republicans and John McCain in the the November 4th elections, the labor movement and community organizations filed a formal complaint this week with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). A Wall Street Journal article earlier this month revealed that Wal-Mart held mandatory meetings for thousands of employees that, according to the Wall Street Journal quoting some workers involved, told employees how to vote in the upcoming election. Federal law prohibits employers from pressuring hourly employees to vote a certain way in a federal election. One anonymous employee told the Wall Street Journal that the message of the mandatory Wal-Mart meetings was clear. "I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote," the Wall Street Journal article quoted her as saying. Other employees were told that voting for John McCain, who favors Wal-Mart policies like outsourcing, cutting health care benefits, and low wages, was the right choice to make. Both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations, along with American Rights at Work and WakeUpWalMart.com filed the complaint Friday, Aug. 15th, which stated, WalMart made “prohibited corporate expenditures by expressly advocating against Senator Obama’s election to employees who were not in its restricted class.” The formal complaint further requested the FEC “immediately open an investigation to determine whether a violation occurred and, if so, to take all appropriate steps to remedy that violation of federal election law.” In a press statement announcing the decision to file the complaint, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, “Wal-Mart has bullied its workers and managers for years. Now it wants to bully the political process, and the FEC should take WalMart’s threats very seriously.” Change to Win Executive Director Chris Chafe, in a statement released as the Wall Street Journal story broke, said, “In an election season driven by the desire for change and a demand by working families for better jobs, better wages, pension security and health care for all Americans, it should come as no surprise that Wal-Mart is weighing-in heavily – and possibly illegally – with its employees over the choices they face this November." The labor movement complaint noted that Wal-Mart used the pressure tactic against its employees because it opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would stiffen penalties against employers, like Wal-Mart, that use illegal measures to prevent employees from joining unions. The bill has already passed in the House of Representatives, but was stalled by a John McCain-led Republican filibuster in the Senate. In 2007, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting Wal-Mart's systematic violation of workers rights. According to the report, the company uses unlawful threats of retaliation against employees, spying, and mandatory "captive audience" meetings to instill its anti-union message, along with threats, in new employees.

Most of these actions are illegal, but legal sanctions are so minimal that WalMart has little incentive to obey the law, the report stated. The Employee Free Choice Act would provide that incentive. Democratic nominee Barack Obama has pledged to sign the bill if elected. In a recent teleconference with labor activists and the press, Obama said we need a president who is not "afraid to say we need a stronger labor movement in this country." In addition to signing the labor rights bill, Obama said he would reform the federal agencies that oversee labor relations to prevent them from being "tilted against workers." "Wal-Mart’s tactics are designed to intimidate their employees and discourage them from considering choices that would strengthen their voices on the job and bring tangible change for all American workers," Chafe added. “Wal-Mart has shown exactly why our nation needs the Employee Free Choice Act – we must outlaw the kind of behavior for which Wal-Mart is famous and give workers a free and fair choice on whether to form a union,” Sweeney said. --Joel Wendland can be reached at jwendland@politicalafffairs.net