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Friday, August 01, 2008

Employees Alledge Wal-Mart Trying To tell Them Who To Vote For

Some Wal-Mart store employees are accusing the officials of the company of trying to influence their votes by warning them what could happen if a Democratic candidate becomes president.
Wal-Mart believes that if a Democrat were to win the presidency the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for employees to unionize, would be signed into law and they have started calling meetings with store managers and department heads to warn them of the consequences.

According to a number of employees, these meetings include Wal-Mart officials warning of hefty union dues, possible strikes without compensation and fewer jobs as labor costs rise.

Although the resource managers heading these meetings do not specifically tell the employees how to vote, they make it clear that it is their belief that if a Democrat wins in November, that would be "inviting" unions in.

The Employee Free Choice Act:

To amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish an efficient system to enable employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts, and for other purposes.

This bill was introduced in both the House and Senate during the 108th, 109th, and 110th Congress. It passed in the House on March 1, 2007 for the first time, but was filibustered by Senate Republicans in June 2007.

Unions consider the Employee Free Choice Act as vital to their survival because of years of declining union membership. They currently currently represent 7.5 percent of private-sector workers, which is only half the percentage they represented 25 years ago.

One Wal-Mart customer-service supervisor from Missouri recounts the meeting and says, "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. I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote."

A Wal-Mart spokesman, David Tovar acknowledges the meetings are taking place but denies that they are trying to tell people how to vote and states, "If anyone representing Wal-Mart gave the impression we were telling associates how to vote, they were wrong and acting without approval."

Tovar continues to speak of the Employee Free Choice Act, "We believe EFCA is a bad bill and we have been on record as opposing it for some time. We feel educating our associates about the bill is the right thing to do."

This is a slippery slope for Wal-Mart, legally speaking.

According to Federal Election rules, Wal-Mart may politically advocate political candidates to its executives, stockholders and salaried managers but they are forbidden from doing so with hourly employees, which is the category that department supervisors fall into.

On the other hand, an attorney and expert on election law, Jan Baran, says employers do have a certain amount of leeway to "disseminate information about candidates' voting records and positions on issues."

Wal-Mart is not the only company that is making this case to their workers.

Another company that is used as an example is Cintas Corp., who recently relaunched a website called CintasVotes, which instructs people to contact Congress and urge them to vote against the Employee Free Choice Act.

Under their top issues tab, they have the Employee Free Choice Act, to which states "Cintas does not support this legislation because we believe all workers should keep their democratic right to decide for themselves with a secret-ballot vote, whether or not they want a union.

They show how unionization works presently, then they show what they changes would be if the Employee Free Choice Act were signed into law.

Current procedures for choosing unions: Under current NLRB procedures, a union representation election typically takes place after the union has demonstrated to the NLRB that at least 30 percent of those it is seeking to represent wish to have an election. When an election is held, employees cast votes privately under the supervision of the NLRB a U.S. government agency.

Labor unions’ proposed procedures for choosing unions under the “Employee Free Choice Act”: Unlike a secret-ballot election, union authorization cards would be signed in the presence of a pro-union co-worker or outside union organizer, with no governmental supervision. This absence of government oversight can lead to deception, coercion, forgery and other abuses during the card collection process, as documented in cases brought to the attention of the NLRB by employees over the past several years.

Under the proposed legislation, once the union collects cards from 50% (plus one) of the employees, the union would automatically be ratified at the place of employment. No vote is taken. In addition, the wages, benefits and other conditions of employment of union-represented employees would be dictated by a third party and locked in for two years if the employer and union are unable to reach an agreement in 120 days. These, along with other procedural changes in labor law, will be enacted if H.R. 800 and S.1041 pass.

A Cintas spokeswoman, Heather Trainer, says, "We feel it's important that our employee partners fully understand the implications that the Employee Free Choice Act could have on their work environment and benefits."

Other business backed groups, including the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which counts several hundred industry associations as members and Employee Freedom Action Committee, are putting $50 million into ads geared to oppose the legislation.

Separately the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has made defeat of the legislation a top priority, creating their own ads which are running in Minnesota and they plan to run ads in other states.

The The AFL-CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers are campaigning for the new legislation.

Obama co-sponsored the legislation and has indicated he would sign it into law and McCain opposes it.

Pro-union groups have pledged to spend up to $300 million on the elections to assure the passage of the bill and those opposed will spend just under $100 million, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce focusing on the Senate where labor needs eight more supporters of the legislation to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

The employees do need to know the differences between current practices and what would happen if the new legislation is signed into law, but Wal-art has to be careful about how they distribute such information.

Perhaps a standard for letter would assure them that individual meeting leaders were not straying from the script and bring them into gray areas of the law.