updated 12/20/2007 8:19:19 PM ET 2007-12-21T01:19:19

One of the battle groups in Wal-Mart's two-year-old public relations war with labor unions is about to undergo a change.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Thursday it will take over the advocacy group Working Families for Wal-Mart, which was created and run by its public relations firm to counter political-style campaigns against the retailer started in 2005 by two large unions.

Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar said the Bentonville, Ark.-based company will retool the group and its Web site as a platform for employees and consumers to speak out in favor of the world's largest retailer, rather than the outside supporters it has featured so far.

"We believe the best way to tell our story is to bring Working Families for Wal-Mart 'in-house' and operate it as an internal program. We're at a point where we no longer need a separate entity," Wal-Mart's Tovar said.

Working Families was funded by Wal-Mart but organized and operated by its global p.r. firm Edelman as part of a broader campaign to counter WakeUpWalMart.com and Wal-Mart Watch, founded respectively by the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Service Employees International Union.

WakeUpWalMart.com and Wal-Mart Watch were launched in 2005 to shame the retailer into changes including better pay and benefits.

Working Families featured a national steering committee of small business owners, clergy and academics who spoke out in favor of the retailer.

It was created in late 2005 and had several stumbles, including the August 2006 departure of civil rights icon Andrew Young as chairman after he made remarks that were seen as racially offensive.

In its heyday, the Working Families Web site traded almost daily barbs with the union critics. At one point Working Families created another site called paidcritics.com that attacked the individuals behind the union campaigns.

But activity has dropped off. The paidcritics.com sight was suspended in March, and posts to Working Families have become less frequent in recent months as the continued fight between the unions and Wal-Mart has generated fewer headlines.

WakeUpWalMart.com said the change at Working Families doesn't signal any decrease in its criticism of the retailer over issues including wages, employee health care and product safety.

"Until it takes responsibility as the world's largest retailer and America's largest private employer, it is understandably difficult for working families to be for Wal-Mart," said Meghan Scott, spokeswoman for WakeUpWalMart.com.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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