Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bayh among Democrats who fault Wal-Mart's anti-labor policies

Bayh among Democrats who fault Wal-Mart's anti-labor policies

For Howey Political Report Aug. 24, 2006

Indiana's Evan Bayh stirred up controversy last week in Iowa when he jumped on the Democratic Party's anti-Wal-Mart bandwagon, proclaiming at a press conference that the big-box store "has become emblematic of the anxiety around the country, and the middle-class squeeze."

"We're not here today because we want to shut Wal-Mart down," Bayh said. "We're here today because we want them to treat their employees with dignity and respect. We are not anti-business, we are pro-Middle Class."

He appeared at the Aug. 15 media event in Cedar Rapids on behalf of a "Change Wal-Mart, Change America Tour." Organizers for sponsor Wakeup Wal-Mart said the event was part of "an exciting and unprecedented national bus tour going to 19 states, 35 cities in 35 days."

Several other Democrats considered among likely 2008 presidential candidates made news last week by criticizing the retail giant that is America's single largest private employer: Joe Biden, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson, Tom Vilsack and John Edwards.

"We just came from a great press conference in Cedar Rapids with Senator Evan Bayh, who spoke eloquently about standing up for working and middle class Americans," according to a blog entry on the Wakeup Wal-Mart website. "He talked about how Wal-Mart can be 'both successful and respected' if they do the right thing."

The "About Us" page on the group's web site notes "We are 256,558 Americans and growing. We are grassroots leaders, community groups and activists who have woken up to the high costs of Wal-Mart and recognize Wal-Mart’s negative impact on our jobs, our wages, our health care and our communities."

The blog at Bayh's All America PAC website summed up the chief complaints:

"Wal-Mart as you may know, is notorious for not only paying low wages to its employees but is also well-known for its anti-union tactics as well as encouraging employees to sign up for public assistance programs such as Medicaid and food stamps rather than providing better benefits. In fact, in Alabama and other states, Wal-Mart employees are the #1 recipient of state health insurance."

The attacks were featured prominently by media outlets across the country including CNN, Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, BBC, Indianapolis Star and more.

"The focus on Wal-Mart is part of a broader strategy of addressing what Democrats say is general economic anxiety and a growing sense that economic gains of recent years have not benefited the middle class or the working poor," read a report in the Aug. 17 New York Times. The article noted that "what is striking about this campaign is the ideological breadth of the Democrats who have joined in, including some who in the past have warned the party against appearing hostile to business interests."

Wal-Mart and its defenders struck back with a public relations barrage that blamed politics and unions for the attacks.

"The paid critics and the politicians who join them at these publicity stops are attacking the wrong company and should stop telling working families where to shop and work," Wal-Mart vice president of corporate communications, Bob McAdam, stated in a news release dated Aug. 15. "We're disappointed that these politicians are speaking out without paying attention to the facts and will be sure to inform our associates across Iowa and in other key states that these candidates are not telling the truth about Wal-Mart."

The press release noted the company mailed a letter to its 18,000 employees in Iowa to make them "aware of the misguided attacks aimed at scoring special-interest political points by playing politics with our company."

"We would never suggest to you how to vote, but we have an obligation to tell you when politicians are saying something about your company that isn’t true," the letter read in part. "After all, you are Wal-Mart. We know you take pride in your company and the work you do every day to generate the economic opportunities that so many working families in this country need right now."

A few days later the company announced it was sending similar letters to 27,000 employees in South Carolina, which, like Iowa, is considered a key state in the Democratic presidential candidate vetting process. According to an article in The State, Wal-Mart said the campaign is a union-funded attack that seeks to distort the good the company does.

"It’s really about politics," said Dan Fogleman, a senior public relations manager for Wal-Mart told the newspaper. "They are attacking the wrong company."

In a letter addressed to Bayh that was made available to the press, the company wrote that it saves the average American household more than $2,300 per year.

"We believe strongly that our company is a positive force for the working men and women of this country," the letter read.

Several opinion writers voiced support for the Wal-Mart cause, including the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, which stated "Most Americans do not want their politicians ganging up on one company. Wal-Mart may be a behemoth that employs 1.3 million people in this country and earned $11 billion in profit last year, but it still looks like bullying when politicians single out one business to scapegoat for larger societal ills."

Bloomberg News columnist Caroline Baum cited Wal-Mart statistics supporting the company's assertion that the critics are wrong.

"The bottom line is that Wal-Mart isn't holding a gun to anyone's head, forcing him or her to work under onerous terms," Baum wrote. "Employment at Wal-Mart is voluntary. In January, 25,000 people applied for 325 available jobs at a store opening in the Chicago area, according to the company. Not everyone thinks it's such a bad place to work."

Another widely published article was written by Ann McFeatters, the Scripps Howard columnist who has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.

"Biden, Bayh, Richardson and Vilsack need to get off the bus and do the math," she wrote. "If 127 million people each week feel Wal-Mart makes their life better, how many of them will run to the polls to support a candidate who shakes his fist at their beloved Supercenter?"

The controversy was further fueled this week by the writings of Georgia businessman Herman Cain when he labeled Wal-Mart's critics "Hezbocrats." The former president of Godfather's Pizza is a member of the steering committee for Working Families for Wal-Mart which supports the retailer's fight against the unions.

"The Hezbocrats, armed with nothing more than Katyusha-grade class warfare rhetoric, descended upon Iowa earlier this month determined to take down Wal-Mart, a company they consider the nation’s largest capitalistic oppressor of the proletariat," Cain wrote in an 800-word article published Tuesday on

Yesterday, Wake Up Wal-Mart issued a news release with the headline " Calls On Wal-Mart to Renounce Latest Attacks Describing Democrats As Hezbollah Terrorists," and this morning's Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted a Wake Up Wal-Mart spokesman who said Cain's statements were "some of the most outrageous and disgusting comments ever to be used to describe patriotic Democrats. Wal-Mart should apologize considering he made these comments on their behalf."

The Atlanta newspaper also reported John Kerry accused Cain of "'swiftboating' people who ask tough questions of big business."

"Make no mistake, those who push and prod Wal-Mart to be a decent corporate citizen are standing up for the American worker," Kerry told the newspaper. "Decent wages and affordable health care aren't too much to ask for from the largest employer in the United States."

As noted in the article, former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young resigned last week from the pro-Wal-Mart organization after he made controversial remarks about Jewish, Korean and Arab business owners.


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