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Robyn E. Blumner

Managing to vote GOP

Always low-price Wal-Mart is also always low wage, low benefits and low ethics when it comes to its workers, here and abroad.

The company that insiders claim encouraged employees to seek taxpayer-funded health care for the poor is back in the news. This time the retail giant is accused of encouraging its store managers and department supervisors to vote Republican come November.

If those employees do so they'd be committing electoral hara-kiri. It is hard to fathom an act more inimical to their economic interests.

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, Wal-Mart made it clear in mandatory meetings around the country that a Democratic victory would be a disaster for its anti-union business model.

The focus of the meetings was legislation known as the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow employees to unionize without a formal union election if more than 50 percent sign certification cards. Sen. Barack Obama is a co-sponsor of the measure while Sen. John McCain opposes it — a fact that Wal-Mart drove home to its supervisors.

Of course, Wal-Mart is right about the Employee Free Choice Act making it easier for employees to unionize. The measure is designed short-circuit the campaign of intense antiunion intimidation and coercion that so many employers unleash in the months leading up to a union election.

It's particularly needed now because under the George Bush presidency lax enforcement of labor laws and essentially non-existent penalties have combined to embolden employers willing to use extralegal means to keep unions at bay. Today, reportedly one in four private sector employers fire at least one worker during union organizing — a clear warning to rest of the work force.

And Wal-Mart is a leading example of this. In 2000, the company famously closed down its butcher shop operations in 180 of its supercenter stores when one group of butchers in East Texas voted 7-3 to unionize. And the Supreme Court of Canada has just agreed to rule on the legality of Wal-Mart closing a store in Quebec in 2005. It was conveniently shuttered after workers brought in a union. The company said the store was unprofitable.

You can almost hear Wal-Mart officials sniggering "Go ahead, try again."

During Wal-Mart's political exhortations, the company was apparently scrupulous not to actually say "Vote Republican," but as one customer service supervisor told the Journal: "I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote."

Here's what Wal-Mart's employees would buy with another Republican administration:

• A National Labor Relations Board that is deeply hostile to employee interests.

• Judges predisposed toward employers appointed to the federal bench.

• A Department of Labor that is preoccupied with investigating unions over employer violations of wage, hour and worker safety laws.

As Obama recently said: "It's time we had a president … who knows it's the Department of Labor, not the Department of Management."

And Wal-Mart workers can also expect the sidelining of important substantive legislation benefitting them.

Due to resistance by the president and Senate Republicans, Congress can't even get passed a bill to address blatant pay discrimination.

Thanks to an absurd ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, if a woman doesn't file a complaint within six months of receiving her first discriminatory paycheck — even if she has no clue that male colleagues are being paid more — she's out of luck. Legislation to remedy this legal anomaly is being stymied by Republican opposition, including McCain.

You can see why the GOP and Wal-Mart management are simpatico. But the company's workers have sharply divergent interests. Even supervisors who can't unionize would undoubtedly receive a boost if a union helped negotiate higher wages and better benefits for the rank and file.

Wal-Mart is 46 years old, and by now its workers must know that they are not going to see good, raise-a-family and enjoy-a-secure-retirement wages through the company's good graces. It's going to take a union and an administration in Washington friendly to that prospect.

Managing to vote GOP 08/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 21, 2008 8:59pm]
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