CHICAGO (Reuters) - Labor groups on Thursday asked federal regulators to look into whether Wal-Mart Stores Inc broke the law during company meetings with store managers where it warned about the consequences of a proposed labor law backed by Democrats.
At issue is whether Wal-Mart’s discussion of the law, which would make it easier for workers to unionize, amounted to an effort to dissuade employees from voting for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Wal-Mart denies that it tried to influence voting.
WakeUpWalmart.com said it filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission in conjunction with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and other groups.
A spokeswoman for WakeUpWalmart.com said the group has heard from about two dozen Wal-Mart workers in recent weeks regarding comments made by managers about the legislation. A Wall Street Journal story earlier this month disclosed some of the meetings’ details.
At some meetings, “they outright said if you vote for Barack Obama this law is going to pass, your wages would go down, you could lose your job,” said Meghan Scott. She added that the comments varied in their directness.
Wal-Mart has acknowledged holding meetings with U.S. store managers, where it warned them of the possible consequences of the labor-friendly Employee Free Choice Act that is backed by Obama.
But the retailer, which has kept its U.S. stores free of unions, denies telling workers how to vote.
Wal-Mart opposes proposed legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize by signing a card rather than holding a vote.
Obama, a co-sponsor of the original bill, has called for passage of the act. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain has voted against it.
In the United States, Wal-Mart operates more than 4,200 stores, including Sam’s Club warehouse locations, and it employs more than 1.4 million workers.
Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar said that if the FEC decides to investigate, it will find the company did nothing wrong.
“Our policies are clear and we have communicated to our associates that if anyone representing our company gave the impression they were telling associates how to vote, they were wrong and were acting without approval,” Tovar said.
He declined to say whether any managers had been disciplined for making unapproved comments.
Reporting by Brad Dorfman; Editing by Brian Moss
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.