WASHINGTON — The AFL-CIO and three other labor-rights groups have asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate whether Wal-Mart Stores Inc. unlawfully pressured employees to vote against Democrats in November because their party would help workers to unionize.
The groups — which include Change to Win, American Rights at Work and WakeUpWalMart.com — say in a complaint processed on Friday with the FEC that “there is reason to believe” Wal-Mart broke federal election rules by advocating against Democratic candidate Barack Obama in meetings with employees.
The labor organizations based their complaint on a report earlier this month from The Wall Street Journal. The report said Wal-Mart held mandatory meetings with store managers and department supervisors to warn that if Democrats prevail this fall, they would likely push through a bill that the company says would hurt workers.
The legislation, called the Employee Free Choice Act, would allow labor organizations to unionize workplaces without secret ballot elections. It was co-sponsored by Obama and opposed by John McCain, the Republican nominee-in-waiting.
Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, employs 1.4 million workers. It has rigorously resisted being unionized and opposes the bill.
The Bentonville, Ark.-based discounter has said it did discuss the bill with its employees, including what it sees as the negative impact. It also said it has not advocated that its employees vote against backers of the legislation.
Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar said on Thursday that if anyone representing the company “gave the impression we were telling associates how to vote, they were wrong and acting without approval.”
“We believe that if the FEC looks into this, they will find what we’ve known all along, that we did nothing wrong,” Tovar said in an e-mailed statement.
Federal election rules allow businesses to push for specific political candidates to shareholders, executives and salaried managers, but they prohibit such actions for hourly workers, which typically include department supervisors.
In its Aug. 1 report, The Wall Street Journal cited about a dozen unidentified Wal-Mart employees who had attended such meetings in seven states as saying they were told that employees at unionized shops would have to pay big union dues while not receiving any benefits in return.
The report said the Wal-Mart human resource managers who held the meetings didn’t specifically tell the employees how to vote but made it clear that an Obama victory would mean unionization.
The labor rights groups filed their claim with the FEC on Thursday.
Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of American Rights at Work, criticized Wal-Mart for trying to influence the federal election system.
“Wal-Mart seems to be willing to break federal election law in order to stop their employees and all of America’s workers from having a fair shot at the American dream,” she said.
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