Working Families for Walmart
Working Families for Walmart is an advocacy group formed by Walmart and the Edelman public relations firm on December 20, 2005. It has been used to praise Wal-Mart in a show of opposition to union-funded groups such as Wake Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch. The group is financially supported by Wal-Mart and is headquartered in Edelman’s Washington, D.C. office. It is not organized as a non-profit, and is not required to disclose its sources of funding.
Critics have accused Wal-Mart of leaving the impression that Working Families for Walmart is a spontaneous grass-roots organization, without fully disclosing its financial reliance upon Wal-Mart. The group's web site does not reveal its connection to Wal-Mart or Edelman. Its home page features a blog and with a link stating that the bloggers are employees of Edelman; however, no other mention is made of Edelman on the site. This has led to accusations of Walmart being engaged in deceit and astroturfing. For example, Wal-Mart Watch has stated, “Working Families for Wal-Mart is not a lobbying group or a 501(c)3 (non-profit), but is a sock puppet for Edelman, Walmart’s public relations firm…”.
The group's initial leader was Bishop Ira Combs Jr. of the Greater Bible Way Temple of the Apostolic Faith in Jackson, Michigan. According to Lynda Edward's December 22, 2005 story in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Combs said, “Some friends I worked with on the 2004 Bush campaign phoned me and asked me if I knew about any good things Wal-Mart was doing in my community...I said Wal-Mart is supplying jobs that may not pay a union wage but they pay twice the minimum wage. They asked me if I would be part of this group. Wal-Mart isn’t paying me.”
Another of the group's early members, Courtney Lynch, taught seminars at Wal-Mart headquarters on cultivating female leaders. She states that she gets no salary as an advocate but estimated that her consulting firm got 7 percent of its revenue from Wal-Mart this year.
Andrew Young assumes chairmanship
On February 27, 2006, former ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young assumed duties as "the public spokesman for a group organized with backing from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that defends the world's largest retailer against mounting attacks from its critics," according to Associated Press business writer Marcus Kabel's article. In a telephone interview, he told Kabel that he is not being paid but that the organization that he currently heads, GoodWorks International, has a contract from Working Families for Wal-Mart for consulting work. GoodWorks pairs corporations and governments on global issues. Working Families for Wal-Mart declined to disclose how much Wal-Mart contributes or what it is paying GoodWorks.
Young, a former labor organizer, parts ways with unions regarding Wal-Mart. "The union position is talking about the redistribution of wealth, but they're not talking about generating new wealth. Wal-Mart is generating new wealth when it comes in. The pluses outweigh the minuses. They do give benefits, they do have health insurance."
Reaction by groups critical of Wal-Mart
Wake Up Wal-Mart
According to Edward's story, the previous week, the union group Wake Up Wal-Mart announced a campaign by 13 religious leaders from Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Colorado and Oklahoma to persuade Wal-Mart to adopt labor reforms. Its spokesman, Chris Kofinis, expressed frustration by what he sees as a media chess game.
“It should be easy for Wal-Mart to reach out to genuine Republicans, patriotic Democrats and independents who can sit down together to find ways Wal-Mart can treat its workers and communities better...Instead, it hires right-wing attack dogs.”
In reaction to Young's role with the organization, Paul Blank, campaign director for Wake Up Wal-Mart issued a statement on February 27, 2006. “We call on Ambassador Andrew Young to use his new position to help us change Wal-Mart for the better, rather than defend its abysmal record of child labor violations and poor health care. As a consultant to Wal-Mart, Ambassador Young is now in a unique position to reach out to Wal-Mart and CEO Lee Scott and urge them to change. We hope he will work with WakeUpWalMart.com and help our efforts to create a better Wal-Mart and build a better America."
On December 20, 2005 in response to the announcement of the organization, Wal-Mart Watch issued a statement inviting "this new group...to review the latest data on the company.
"Some facts on Wal-Mart and working families:
- The average annual pay for a cashier is $14,000 a year, $1,000 below the federal poverty line for a family of three.
- Wal-Mart fails to provide health insurance to over half of its 1.3 million U.S. employees.
- By its own admission, 46% of the children of Wal-Mart employees are uninsured or covered by Medicaid."
On January 5, 2006, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, saying the union had been unable to garner Republican congressional support for a national solution, announced a "Fair Share Health Care Campaign" in 33 states. The campaign would work to pass state laws requiring large corporations to spend a certain percentage of their payrolls to provide health care benefits for employees or pay into a state Fair Share Health Care Fund. The percent of payroll would be set by the state legislature or based on the average percentage paid by large employers in the state.
Sweeney cited the example of an Alliance, Ohio Wal-Mart employee who went on Medicaid when her wages would not cover the cost of the corporation's health insurance. “Why should a company like Wal-Mart – which made $10 billion last year alone – be able to force taxpayers to foot the bill for their health care costs?” Sweeney asked.
- Marc Gunther (October 18, 2006). "Corporate blogging: Wal-Mart's fumbles". Fortune magazine. "Working Families for Wal-Mart, a company-sponsored group organized by the Edelman public relations firm."
- Sherry Slater (November 1, 2006). "Area entrepreneur joins Wal-Mart booster group". Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. "Working Families for Wal-Mart was founded in December 2005 by Wal-Mart’s public relations firm."
- Pallavi Gogoi (October 8, 2006). "Wal-Mart's Jim and Laura: The Real Story". BusinessWeek. "Working Families for Wal-Mart, a company-sponsored group organized by the Edelman public relations firm."
- Marilyn Geewax (April 5, 2006). "Wal-Mart battles critics at grass-roots level: Retailing behemoth counters unions with groups run by PR people with connections to both political parties.". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It was formed to criticize Wal-Mart in a show of solidarity with union-funded groups such as Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart."
- Marilyn Geewax (November 26, 2006). "Dueling PR Groups Wrestle Over Wal-Mart Policies". Cox News Service. "Unlike Wal-Mart Watch, it would not be organized as a nonprofit group that publicly discloses funding sources."
- "PR firm admits it's behind Wal-Mart blogs". CNN. October 20, 2006. Retrieved November 10, 2008.
- Sherry Slater (November 1, 2006). "Area entrepreneur joins Wal-Mart booster group". Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
- Edwards, Lynda (2005). "Wal-Mart chipping in for advocate" ([dead link]). Arkansas Democrat Gazette (Northwest Arkansas Edition) (December 22).
- Kabel, Marcus (Associated Press) (2006). "Andrew Young to head pro-Wal-Mart group" ([dead link]). Sacramento Bee (February 27).
- "WakeUpWalMart.com 2/27/06 Statement In Response to Ambassador Andrew Young Joining Wal-Mart Front Group". Wake-up Wal-Mart Website. Retrieved February 28, 2006.[dead link]
- "Working Families for Wal-mart: Follow the money". Wal-Mart Watch Organizational Website. Retrieved February 28, 2006.
- "News for working families: AFL-CIO launches fair share health care campaign in 33 states". AFL-CIO Organizational Website. Retrieved February 28, 2006.
- PR Newswire release on January 2006 poll commissioned by Working Families for Wal-Mart
- December 2005 Pew Research Center Poll Results sponsored by Pew Charitable Trusts
- December 2005 Zogby poll commissioned by Wake Up Wal-Mart
- Partial list of Wal-Mart Watch partners from the group's website
- Good Works International LLC, Andrew Young's consulting firm's website