Working Families for Wal-Mart

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

Working Families for Wal-Mart announced its formation on December 20, 2005 to counter crticism from groups, such as Wake Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch. The group is "partly funded" by the Bentonville-based Wal-Mart, that corporation's spokesperson, Sarah Clark, told the Associated Press, without providing details.

Mission Statement

According to the organization's official website, "Working Families for Wal-Mart is committed to fostering open and honest dialogue with elected officials, opinion makers and community leaders that conveys the positive contributions of Wal-Mart to working families.

"We believe that Wal-Mart provides value to its customers, to its associates and to the communities it serves." [1]

Steering Committee

Initial Leadership

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, "Wal-Mart chipping in for advocate," 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.”

One of the group's 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. [2]

Andrew Young Becomes Chair

On February 27, 2006, former Ambassador 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," reported Marcus Kabel for the Associated Press. In a telephone interview, Young told Kabel that he is not being paid but that the PR firm he heads, GoodWorks International LLC, has a contract from Working Families for Wal-Mart for consulting work. GoodWorks pairs corporations and governments on global issues, in what some critics say are "greenwashing"-type arrangements. Working Families for Wal-Mart declined to disclose how much Wal-Mart contributes or what it is paying GoodWorks. [3] [4]

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," he said. [5]

Young Resigns After Racist Remarks

In August 2006, Young resigned from Working Families for Wal-Mart, after admitting to making "demagogic" remarks about Jewish, Asian and Arab business owners. He told the Los Angeles Sentinel that Wal-Mart should run smaller groceries out of business, because the "mom and pop" stores "have been overcharging us — selling us stale bread, and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they've ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it's Arabs, very few black people own these stores." [6]

Wal-Mart spokesperson Mona Williams said, "We are appalled by these comments. We are also dismayed that they would come from someone who has worked so hard for so many years for equal rights in this country." [7]

Following Young's resignation, Edelman Vice President Kevin Sheridan told PR Week that the group was "moving forward aggressively." Sheridan confirmed that the group was considering a replacement but, PR Week reported, "declined to answer further questions; including how much of a role Wal-Mart's in-house PR team would play in the selection process." [8]

Raising Cain

Just one week following Young's resignation, inflammatory remarks by another Working Families for Wal-Mart steering committee member embarrassed the retail giant. In an August 22, 2006, column, Herman Cain called Democratic presidential hopefuls and Wal-Mart critics "Hezbocrats, a roaming band of militant guerrillas." He added, "Hezbocrats, armed with nothing more than Katyusha-grade class warfare rhetoric" are "determined to take down Wal-Mart, a company they consider the nation's largest capitalistic oppressor of the proletariat." [9]

In response, Wal-Mart released the following statement: [10]

Herman Cain is not a spokesperson for Wal-Mart. We understand that he has a long standing column and the views he expresses in that column are his own. Wal-Mart is about creating jobs, providing affordable health care for our associates and saving money for working families.

Other Members

According to organization's website (accessed February 28, 2006), the advisory board in addition to Combs, Young (who is listed as the Chairman) and Lynch were:

  • Charles W. Baird, Ph.D.--Professor of Economics at California State University, East Bay and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Business and Economics
  • Pat Boone--entertainer
  • Honorable Jennifer Carroll--Florida House of Representatives (R-13
  • Tom Chung--CEO of Asian Rehabilitation Service, Inc
  • Carroll Cocchia--Carroll Cocchia founder the Native American Chamber of Commerce in June, 2000.
  • Lupita Colmenero--2005 President of the National Association of Hispanic Publications
  • Maria de Lourdes Sobrino--Founder and CEO of Lulu’s Dessert Corporation
  • Ron Galloway--investment advisor and producer of Why Wal-Mart Works & Why That Makes Some People C-R-A-Z-Y
  • Barbara Kasoff--President and CEO, and Co-Founder, of Women Impacting Public Policy, Inc.
  • Rev. Dr. Barbara L. King--Founder/Minister of the Hillside Chapel and Truth Center, Inc., in Atlanta, Georgia
  • Chris Lewis----Vice President of Public Education for the Wheelchair Foundation
  • Betty Miller--retired Florida English teacher
  • Martha Montoya--Founder and President of Los Kitos Entertainment LLC and a Board Member of the Latino Business Association
  • Catherine Smith--Vice President for iVilliage Inc. divisions of Diversity Best Practices, the Business Women's Network and Best Practices in Corporate Communications. [11]

Public Relations

Herald Group, LLC

The Washington, D. C. public relations firm, Herald Group, LLC, directs the group's campaign. The firm opened in September 2005. One of the principals is former White House spokesman Taylor Gross, 30, who coordinated Republican media coverage during the 2000 presidential election ballot recount in Florida. Gross also served as U. S. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s media point man during Ashcroft’s nomination hearings. A 1996 graduate of The Citadel, his alumni magazine’s spring 2001 issue described him as “steeped in the cutthroat lifestyle of politics in Washington." [12]

Another principal is Matt Well, who resigned his position as Director of Public Affairs with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission June 30, 2005. Wells was the Republican Leadership Council’s director of issues advocacy during the 2000 campaign. He also headed field operations for the American Tort Reform Association, which advocates caps to punitive damages awarded by courts.

The third co-founder is Doug McGinn, former Assistant Vice President for Dittus Communications. According to his biography at the corporate website, he served on the staff of Vice Presidential candidate Jack Kemp and former Education Secretary William Bennett at Empower America, a nonprofit policy organization, as well as as communications director and senior advisor to three members of Congress. [13]

Crosslink Strategy Group

In "GOP consultant cuts ties with Wal-Mart in flap over ad in Tennessee Senate race" the AP's David Espo reported on October 27, 2006, Terry Nelson's "political work for Republican candidates is separate from his company, Crosslink Strategy Group. The firm has had a contract with Wal-Mart as well as with Families For Wal-Mart, a separate, company-funded group. Part of the work involved creation of a voter registration program for Wal-Mart employees." [14]

In "US: Unwitting Shoppers Recruited for Wal-Mart PR Fight" Marilyn Geewax of Cox News Service wrote on April 4th, 2006, "Thousands of area Wal-Mart shoppers have been asked in recent weeks to join Working Families for Wal-Mart....Those who did so may not have realized that they had become the newest recruits in a fierce public relations war between Wal-Mart and national labor unions.

She continues, "[Andrew] Young serves as the organization's public face, but behind the scenes is a consulting firm hired to collect contact information from potential supporters.

That firm is Crosslink Strategy Group LLC, founded by Terry Nelson, a GOP strategist with ties to the nation's most influential Republicans.

Nelson served as national political director for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign. Last month, he signed on as a senior adviser for the Straight Talk America political action committee created by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a likely presidential candidate in 2008.

Democrats criticize Nelson for his links to a money-laundering indictment involving former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. According to the Texas indictment, DeLay employee Jim Ellis sent Nelson a check for $190,000 in corporate contributions, to be used by seven candidates for the Texas Legislature.

While the indictment puts Nelson in the middle of a transaction that prosecutors say was illegal, he is not considered a target of the investigation.

She adds, "Questions about the relationship between Crosslink and Working Families for Wal-Mart were raised by Wal-Mart Watch....Starting last month, Crosslink hired temporary workers to staff sign-up tables in front of Wal-Mart stores in metro Atlanta. Saturday, four such workers were posted outside the two entrances to a Wal-Mart in Marietta, just outside Atlanta. As shoppers entered the store, they were encouraged to join.

"Their immediate reward was to be enrolled in a drawing to win an expense-paid party, one of a series to be offered for Memorial Day, July Fourth, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.

"Shoppers were not told who was funding the operation. The post cards they filled out said only: 'Yes, I will join Working Families for Wal-Mart because I support lower prices for working families and more jobs for my community.'

"The cards did not explain how their contact information would be used, nor what their duties might be."[15]

In his May 12, 2006 article for the New York Times, "Wal-Mart Tries to Enlist Image Help," Mchael Barbaro writes,

"Wal-Mart has allowed Working Families for Wal-Mart to recruit suppliers twice — at the annual company meeting, held in Kansas City, Mo., and at a small gathering in Irving, Tex. The Working Families for Wal-Mart representative who made the Texas presentation in late April is Terry Nelson, the former political director of the 2004 Bush presidential campaign, whose firm, Crosslink Strategy, consults for both Wal-Mart and Working Families for Wal-Mart.

"In a recruitment letter that Wal-Mart helped send to thousands of suppliers, Mr. Nelson wrote that "Working Families for Wal-Mart is recruiting a standing army of supporters from all aspects of Wal-Mart's business." Suppliers, he added 'are strong and credible voices in this national debate.'"

Reaction by Groups Critical of Wal-Mart

Wake Up Wal-Mart

According to Edward's story, the previous week, the 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." [16]

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 and help our efforts to create a better Wal-Mart and build a better America."[17]

Wal-Mart Watch

On December 20, 2005 in response to the announcement of the organization, Wal-Mart Watch issued a statement inviting "this new 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."

SourceWatch Resources

External links

NOTE: Some of this information was adapted from a Wikipedia article under the GNU Free Documentation License.