Wal-Mart gets a lot of bad publicity. That’s what happens when you are the big dog. But you learn to take those shots with a large grain of salt. Especially if you are in the labor relations part of the business, where just about anything you do is likely to make the front pages of hundreds of union and other anti-corporate blogs – if not the occasional Wall Street Journal article.
Recently Wal-Mart was ambushed with complaints that its labor relations training on the Employee Free Choice Act violated the federal election laws. The main thrust of the allegation was that Wal-Mart was telling its hourly supervisors to vote against Barack Obama and other Democrats in the November elections. Unions filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission two weeks later.
There are a couple of major problems with the story, none of which – shockingly – ever made the news coverage. First, the main complainants people who regularly post on the anti-Wal-Mart site sponsored by the SEIU (who, along with the other Change to Win brothers and sisters, are investing millions of dollars telling their members to vote for Obama). That doesn’t make the complaints false of course, but it is one of those things that might make a reporter go, “hmmm.”
Second, Wal-Mart has every right – certainly a First Amendment right and an 8(c) right under the National Labor Relations Act – to communicate its belief that the Employee Free Choice Act is a bad policy. They obviously should not communicate how to vote to “restricted class” employees (frankly I don’t even think it is a good idea to tell anyone how to vote – restricted class or not). But everything I’ve read about what was said in the meetings leaves this question murky at best. I still haven’t heard the “digital recording” of the meeting that was supposed to be released – unions are probably waiting to time that “bombshell” – but the quotes supposedly taken from it aren’t FEC violations (although they may be unfair labor practices).
It is pretty obvious that what happened here is that a Wal-Mart manager (and at this point I don’t think even one person has been identified) editorialized a bit during these meetings about the Democrats who support the EFCA. Certainly to “restricted class” people they shouldn’t talk about parties or candidates. But Wal-Mart was very clear about the simple fact that the Employee Free Choice Act is a disastrous policy choice and no matter who your candidate they should know how you feel about it. That is exactly what top management at Wal-Mart has been saying all along – before and after the WSJ story broke. There is no confusion about this, unless you are a union hell-bent on organizing Wal-Mart.
And while the PR and government relations folks may not like to hear it, it would make absolutely no difference what Wal-Mart managers actually said about the Free Choice Act. It would have been exactly the same story. The good news is that in the face of a near-certain PR mess Wal-Mart management – from the very top of the company – still chose to take a stand.
And that is the most important lesson of all to take from this incident. Unions have no interest in free speech (which is why they are working so hard to get the EFCA passed in the first place). Wal-Mart knows it is going to get blasted any time it takes a stand on the EFCA. Yet they have the back bone to do it. They go out and do what every other employer in America should be doing right now – telling their employees about this misguided and massively destructive policy. What is YOUR company doing?