Monday, September 8, 2008

Wal-Mart and Office Politics

Walmart Wal-Mart has long established its success in fighting unionization at its stores.  It now appears that it's using some of the same techniques in attempt to sway its employees' political actions.  Our own Marcia McCormick (Samford) and Paul Secunda (Marquette), along with Melissa Hart (Colorado), has just published an op-ed on this topic in the Legal Times.  An excerpt:

According to the Wall Street Journal story, at mandatory meetings the big box chain held for store managers and department heads across the country this summer, meeting leaders warned participants of the risks of unionization for the company. According to numerous employees who attended these obligatory sessions, the human resource managers running the meetings made it clear that voting for a Democratic president would be tantamount to inviting unions into the store and that unionization could mean fewer jobs.

According to a subsequent Wall Street Journal report based on a digital recording of one meeting, at least one meeting leader also apparently made several inaccurate representations about the consequences of the Employee Free Choice Act, the pro-labor law co-sponsored by the Democratic nominee for president, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, that the company has been fighting. Now some labor groups are seeking an investigation of Wal-Mart’s conduct in these meetings. . . .

So what’s the big deal? Can’t employees just choose not to attend these coercive meetings, whether on politics or religion?

In most cases, the answer is no. Although physically employees may walk out of such meetings or not attend, employees risk being fired if they are considered to be insubordinate to their supervisors by failing to listen to them or by not attending these assemblies. Indeed, employees have been lawfully terminated for merely asking questions of their employers during such captive audience meetings or for leaving such meetings without permission. . . .

So what can be done? Unfortunately, federal labor law under the National Labor Relations Act or any other law does not currently regulate captive audience meetings. [Some states] are considering alternative legislation to deal with these issues of employer intimidation in the workplace in the form of Worker Freedom Act legislation pending in numerous state legislatures. According to the AFL-CIO, its proposed model legislation would “give employees the freedom to walk away from political or religious indoctrination meetings—and would bar employers from firing or disciplining workers who choose not to attend or who report unlawful forced meetings.”. . .

By enacting laws like the Worker Freedom Act that prohibit employers from firing workers who refuse to attend captive audience meetings about the employer’s political, religious, or union views, states will be helping to ensure both fairer elections and fairer workplaces.

As you can see, the op-ed touches not only on political matters, but important labor and employment law developments as well.  Check it out!


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