It's got Karl Rove written all over it. It smacks of the lowest form yet of sleazy Republican intimidation tactics to disenfranchise voters and influence the outcome of the November election. And it's got right-wing spinmeisters whipped into a mouth-foaming frenzy. We're talking about the behemoth retailer Walmart's alleged threats against its employees if they vote for the Democratic presumptive nominee for president, Sen. Barack Obama. It's all about jobs. So is the world's largest retailer really trying to scare the bajesus out of its 1.4 million workers? 'Vote for Obama and you could be fired.' Is this what it's all coming to?
What apparently has Walmart executives' panties in a snit is the belief that if Obama becomes president it's more likely that its employees will unionize, which is something the notoriously stingy employer fears. Walmart's reputation as a lousy employer is legendary. Charges of low wages, poor benefits and overall workplace mistreatment have plagued the company for years.
At issue now is a bill, co-sponsored by Obama and opposed by the GOP's presumptive nominee, Sen. John McCain, that could force the retail giant's hand and serve to appreciably lighten its pocketbook. The measure, called the Employee Free Choice Act, would allow unions to organize workplaces without secret ballot elections, thus making it much easier to turn companies from non-union to union. Should this happen at Walmart, it would cost the company bazillions, eating into its sizable earnings. Wal-Mart recently reported first quarter 2008 profits of over $3-billion, a 6.9% increase over last year. Our collective hearts bleed for them, huh?
So what exactly is Walmart up to? The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the company has been holding mandatory Chicken Little meetings with store managers and department supervisors warning that the bill would likely pass in an Obama administration and that that would negatively impact its workers. To what degree the warnings were issued is not confirmed, but many Walmart employees anonymously have said that the company's message is quite clear: 'a vote for Obama could mean a loss of jobs.' And while the company may not have specifically instructed any of its employees--be they management or rank-and-file--to vote specifically for McCain, the intention is obvious: 'We don't like Obama. We don't like Unions. Obama will unionize us. That will hurt business and result in massive layoffs. We do not want Obama to be president.' They don't need to finish this with, "and if you vote for Obama you will lose your job." The perceived threat is already there. Of course, Walmart denies that it's threatened or intimidated its workers.
As expected, right-wing spinheads are rushing to Walmart's defense. On his national Sirius Satellite Radio program Friday, The Wilkow Majority, Andrew Wilkow emphatically and repeatedly asserted that Walmart, or any company for that matter, not only has the right to maintain whatever size workforce it so desires, but that it would be well within their right to warn employees outright that "If you vote for Obama you will be fired."
In an email exchange, I pointed out to Wilkow that not only is his suggestion unconscionable in terms of voter intimidation, but that it was convoluted in its enforceability. How would Walmart know who their employees voted for? And how, therefore, could they fire only those who voted for Obama? It's moronic no matter how you slice it.
Wilkow replied: "What I said was that a company has the right to inform the
workers of the stark reality of the effect the election may have on their
business. I wasn't endorsing voter intimidation. A company doesn't have
any obligation to maintain a particular number of employees or
production output. If a company feels that the political climate is
going to add weight or cost to doing business a company is free to cut
staff or production. If that is not the case then who is going to force
a company to maintain said levels of production and staff or stay in
business at all for that matter?"
Nice try, Andy, but the words "If you vote for Obama you will be fired" came out of your mouth, not mine. But let's give Wilkow some credit. Maybe after seeing his outlandish rant thrown back at him, he at least had the smarts to realize how irresponsible it was and he immediately backpedaled. I informed him that while a company indeed has the right to maintain whatever staff levels it so chooses, it does not have the right to attempt to control the outcome of an election by threatening its employees with dismissal if they vote for a specific candidate, which is exactly what he was urging.
This sort of tyrannical ploy is taking sleazy Republican politics to a new low, but it's surely not surprising. Republicans are desperate and scared and, like always, will do or say anything to retain power. And its corporate pals like Walmart seem all too willing to help the cause at the continued expense of the little guy. So, when exactly will the little guy learn and stop voting Republican? Perhaps this is the year we finally see an end to that unexplained phenomenon called Reagan Democrats.
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