New Labor Coalition Campaigns for ‘Real Change' at Wal-Mart

By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Labor groups renewed their campaign against Wal-Mart on Tuesday, launching a coalition that calls for improvements in the company's wages, health care, and environmental and labor policies.

Unions have long sparred with the world's largest retailer over these issues, and Wal-Mart has amended some of its practices amid a barrage of criticism. But the United Food and Commercial Workers, which is leading the charge, said it considers those efforts incremental.

"We want to see some real change," said Patrick J. O'Neill, international vice president of the union. One key issue on which the two sides remain polarized is organizing store employees. Wal-Mart, along with other retailers and industry groups, opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that contains a provision known as "card check," which would allow workers to form unions without a secret-ballot election. The measure has been a priority for labor activists but has been put on hold while Congress debates health care.

The UFCW began airing two commercials Tuesday in union-friendly cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston that criticize Wal-Mart's spending on health care. The ads are titled "Common Sense Economics" and say that many Wal-Mart employees are forced to use government health care, amounting to a federal bailout for the company.

The ads come after Wal-Mart took steps to expand coverage for its employees. This summer, chief executive Mike Duke even broke with the business community to support a mandate that employers provide health-care benefits for workers -- a cause championed by labor groups and the White House.

"In today's economy, when families are being squeezed, Wal-Mart is playing an important part in their lives," said Daphne Moore, a spokeswoman for the company.

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