A union-backed group is to launch two television ads Thursday that feature Wal-Mart workers calling on their employer to improve working conditions and make company health insurance more affordable.
Funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the 30-second ads by WakeUpWalMart.com include three workers who list their complaints, which include low wages, being locked in stores and not being able to leave without penalty to care for a sick child.
"This holiday season, tell Wal-Mart to do the right thing, put America's families first," the three workers say in one ad, sharing segments of the dialogue.
To coincide with the start of the ads, WakeUpWalMart.com is having supporters hand out leaflets at 300 Wal-Mart stores on Thursday, spokesman Chris Kofinis said.
"It's our first ad campaign of the holiday season and the first where we use actual Wal-Mart workers," Kofinis said.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spokesman David Tovar said that the claims in the ads break no new ground and that Wal-Mart's customers understand the company.
Wal-Mart: 'Tired and failing campaign'
"Our customers see these attacks as a part of a tired and failing campaign. Americans know that Wal-Mart creates jobs, reduces the cost of health care through our $4 generic drug program and protects the environment through our sustainability efforts," Tovar said.
"People see that Wal-Mart gets good things done. Our customers know their holidays will be brighter when they shop at Wal-Mart. We remain focused on serving our customers and providing value to them," he said.
The workers are identified as Charmaine Givins of Chicago; Cynthia Murray of Hyattsville, Md.; and Ramiro Gonzalez of El Paso, Texas.
Tovar did not have an immediate comment when asked whether publicly criticizing the company constitutes a firing offense.
"I can't imagine even Wal-Mart would sink to a new low to punish Wal-Mart workers who bravely speak out and call on Wal-Mart to put families first this holiday season," Kofinis said.
Bentonville-based Wal-Mart has lowered what it charges workers for health insurance, but it recently revised its attendance policy and placed caps on its seven hourly pay grades, drawing new criticism.
Wal-Mart has 1.3 million U.S. workers, making it the nation's largest private employer. It is also the world's largest retailer in terms of sales.
WakeUpWalMart.com and a similar group, Wal-Mart Watch, have persisted in criticizing the world's largest retailer, and Kofinis said the ads and leaflets are intended to keep pressuring the retailer to change the way it treats its workers.
'These are real people being affected'
"They can easily do better and they need to do better," he said.
He said having the workers in the ads illustrates that "these are real people being affected," Kofinis said. "It shows the real cost of these policies."
Kofinis said the group would spend $1 million during the holiday season and that the new ads will take a "very significant" part of that budget. He said the ads target women, African Americans, and Hispanics — groups represented in the ads.
The ads are to run in 30 cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Milwaukee, St. Louis, San Antonio and Tampa, Fla.