Wal-Mart says 'relentlessly' non-partisan in US election

NEW YORK Mon Oct 27, 2008 11:17pm EDT

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NEW YORK Oct 27 (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) has been "relentlessly non-partisan" in the current U.S. presidential campaign and stands to benefit no matter which candidate wins, a top executive said on Monday.

"I actually think ... that there's opportunity with either party," Leslie Dach, Wal-Mart's executive vice president of corporate affairs, told the retailer's analyst meeting, which was broadcast over the Internet.

Wal-Mart has worked over the past few years to burnish its image after facing criticism from liberal Democrats and labor unions, who contended the company paid poverty-level wages and pushed employees onto government aid programs.

Under Dach's leadership, Wal-Mart has tried to portray itself as a leader committed to tackling tough issues, such as lowering health care costs and cleaning up the environment.

"Government officials around the world are calling us because they want to understand what we see in the stores," Dach said.

The biggest challenge facing the next U.S. president will be getting the economy back on track, and Dach noted both Democrats and Republicans have discussed ways to help the middle class through tax breaks or another economic stimulus packages.

If approved, Wal-Mart stands to gain from these efforts, Dach said.

"If middle class, hard-working Americans have more disposable income ... Wal-Mart will get its fair share."

Dach also said Wal-Mart is "very concerned about what we call the 'Employee Forced Choice Act'."

He was referring to the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to unionize, by signing a card rather than holding a vote.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, a co-sponsor of the original bill, has called for passage of the act. Republican presidential nominee John McCain opposes the bill.

Earlier this year, a story in the Wall Street Journal said Wal-Mart executives told employees that unionization could force the retailer to cut jobs as labor costs rise, and that employees would have to pay hefty union dues and get nothing in return.

While Wal-Mart said it warned store managers about the possible consequences of the bill, the retailer, which has kept its U.S. stores free of unions, stressed it was not telling employees how to vote.

Dach said Wal-Mart's opposition to the bill is "well known and clear," and he believes the more attention the bill receives, the more it will be seen as "negative" to business in the United States.

Wal-Mart is not alone in its opposition to the bill. Last week at its analyst meeting, discount retailer Target Corp (TGT.N) said the bill could be damaging to American business, and it opposed the bill.

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