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2 — The PlainDealer

July 2009

Election Commission Dismisses Claims Against Wal-Mart By JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press Writer LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Federal Election Commission has dismissed a complaint by labor groups that accused Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of pressuring employees to vote against Democrats in the November election, though FEC staffers warned that the case was a “close call.” Commissioners voted to end the inquiry requested by the AFL-CIO, American Rights at Work and WakeUpWalMart.com after an August article in The Wall Street Journal. However, the six-member commission split on whether employees of the world’s largest retailer broke the law when they made comments that went beyond a script regarding a bill that would make it easier for workers to unionize. Wal-Mart held meetings that store managers and department supervisors were required to attend, to warn that if Democrats prevailed in the general election, they would likely push through a bill that the company says would hurt workers. That bill, known as the Employee Free Choice Act, would allow labor organizations to unionize workplaces without secret ballot elections. In its findings, commission staffers found that Wal-Mart put together a script and slideshow presentation to show to hourly employees who supervise other workers at the retail chain. Wal-Mart has vigorously opposed unionization efforts at its stores in the past. One slide warned: “If Democrats win enough Senate seats and we elect a Democratic President in 2008, this will be the first bill presented.” Two slides later, the commission’s report said, those giving the presentations were asked to tell workers that such bills would be “potentially harmful to our business.” “We are not trying to tell you or anyone else how to vote or who a person can support. Republican, Democrat or Independent: That is your personal choice,” the script reads. “However, we do want to encourage you to be informed on how congressional and presidential decisions could impact our personal lives and the company we work for.”

In a report to commissioners, FEC employees said that Wal-Mart provided a clear statement in its presentation that it was not trying to tell workers how to vote in the upcoming election. Still, the report acknowledged, the presentation “could be interpreted, and was interpreted by some, as a warning to vote against the Democratic presidential candidate, and, therefore, makes the guide a close call.” The report also said some WalMart presenters went off-script and made their own denunciations regarding the unionizing bill and then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. After the story appeared in the newspaper, the report said WalMart itself acknowledged “even more egregious” problems at the meetings. The company said one presenter showed a slide that read “Obama union” and told those attending “why unions were bad.” In a decision announced Tuesday to reporters, the commissioners agreed that the script and slide show themselves weren’t a violation of federal election law. However, the commission deadlocked over the steps individual presenters took when sharing the information with other workers. In a letter, commissioners Cynthia L. Bauerly and Ellen L. Weintraub wrote that they felt a “limited investigation” was needed to ferret out whether Wal-Mart encouraged workers to embellish the script.

“There was not enough information at this stage of the proceeding conclusively to determine that Wal-Mart either did or did not attempt to coerce its employees into voting against Democratic candidates,” the commissioners wrote. “What we did not have was sufficient information to find no reason to believe a violation occurred, given the public statements of the employees and (the) corporation’s response.” Daphne Moore, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the company was pleased with the FEC’s decision. Moore said she had no information on whether employees who embellished their presentations faced any disciplinary action. Officials with the AFL-CIO referred questions to American Rights at Work, a labor advocacy group supported by unions and progressive groups. Josh Goldstein, a spokesman for the organization, said the group would examine what options it had after the FEC’s decision. An FEC spokeswoman said the groups likely would have to file a new complaint to bring the matter back before commissioners. “We still believe there was wrongdoing on the part of WalMart,” Goldstein said. The FEC complaint is the latest skirmish between Wal-Mart and unions. Wal-Mart has long opposed workers unionizing in its stores. After failing to organize employees of Wal-Mart with traditional tactics, unions launched two political campaign-style groups in 2005 in an effort to harness public opinion to pressure Wal-Mart to provide better wages and benefits.

Unemployment, continued from Page 1 Tips: There are some things callers can do to help minimize their wait time and speed the processing of their claim: • Mondays are typically the busiest day in the Contact Center. If you can, call later in the week. Wednesdays and Thursdays tend to have the lower call volumes. • Call volumes are highest during the middle of the day. Calling early in the day – from 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. – may help reduce your wait time. • Our Website, www.uibenefits.dol.ks.gov, includes a number of frequently-asked questions. Be sure to check there first to see if you can find an answer to your question – you may be able to avoid a phone call. I hope this information is helpful. I realize this is a very trying time for those who are unemployed and that it can be extremely frustrating to experience difficulty getting through to the unemployment office or extended wait times to speak with a representative. At the Kansas Department of Labor, we’re working hard to manage through those issues and help as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Please let me know if you have further questions. Kathy Toelkes, Director of Marketing and Communications Kansas Department of Labor

Looking for a New Job? The Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas offers many resources for job seekers but, contrary to what many people suppose, they do not process unemployment claims. Kimberly Cronister, Communications Coordinator, said that they try to be a one-stop center for people looking for employment. Besides the many programs they offer, they are located in the same building (150 N. Main St.) as Sedgwick County Human Resources, Flint Hills Job Corps, Veterans Programs, Building Opportunities Workforce Center and the Center for Financial Training. The mission of the Kansas Workforce Centers is to provide and facilitate quality employment and related services responsive to the needs of Kansans. They can help you assess current skills and identify employment opportunities, and even provide training to improve interview skills or build a resumé. Many self-service resources are available onsite, including: · Computers for online job searches, developing and posting resumés · Copy machines for making copies of your resumé · Fax machines to send out resumés Staff-assistance services to job seekers include: · Career planning · Job counseling · Interview training · Job preparation and life skills coaching · Comprehensive assessments · Labor market information Cronister also pointed out their partnership with the Department of Commerce on an employment website, www.KansasWorks.com. KansasWorks.com is a free site for employers to post jobs and look for potential employees, and a place for job seekers to post their resumés for consideration. The most important advice she can give, said Cronister, is “just don’t give up... keep trying!” For information: www.Workforce-KS.com or www.KansasWorks.com

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Plain Dealer, 07/2009  

Wichita Area Union Newsletter