By  on August 15, 2008

WASHINGTON — U.S. labor groups filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday calling for an investigation into allegations that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. violated election laws by warning employees to vote against Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) for president because he supports legislation that would make it easier for employees to unionize.

In conjunction, four labor groups also filed a petition with the FEC containing 60,000 signatures requesting an investigation.

A Wal-Mart spokesman denied the allegations Thursday and provided a letter sent Aug. 1 by the retailer’s chief operating officer, Bill Simon, to thousands of employees. The letter said the company did not encourage its workers to vote against Democrats, particularly Obama, when it held several training sessions across the country to outline why it opposes a bill that would allow a card check system, instead of a closed-ballot vote, to determine whether workers want to join a labor union.

“Our policies are clear and we have communicated to our associates that, if anyone representing our company gave the impression we were telling associates how to vote, they were wrong and acting without approval,” the Wal-Mart spokesman said. “We believe that, if the FEC looks into this, they will find what we’ve known all along: that we did nothing wrong.”

The dispute between Wal-Mart and the labor groups grew out of a Wall Street Journal story published Aug. 1 that quoted several unnamed Wal-Mart employees who said the company held meetings with U.S. store managers to discuss a pending bill known as the Employee Free Choice Act. At the meetings, the managers allegedly warned that, if Obama wins the presidency, he likely would push the bill through Congress. Obama is a co-sponsor of the legislation, which stalled in Congress this year.

In their complaint, the American Rights at Work, AFL-CIO, Change to Win and, said: “There is reason to believe that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has made prohibited corporate expenditures by expressly advocating against Sen. Obama’s election to employees.”

Under federal election rules, according to the complaint, a company such as Wal-Mart can advocate for or against a federal candidate to a “restricted class” of employees, including executive or administrative personnel who are “paid on a salary rather than [an] hourly basis, and who have policy-making, managerial and other salaried lower-level supervisory responsibilities.”

The complaint alleged that Wal-Mart violated the law by urging hourly employees to vote against Obama.

A spokeswoman said in an interview that the organization has received calls from 20 to 30 Wal-Mart employees over the past six weeks who attended the company’s meetings and said they felt that the retailer was telling them to vote against Obama and Democrats because if the legislation passes, “they could lose their jobs.”

In the letter to employees, Simon acknowledged that the company did hold “training sessions” with managers and hourly supervisors to discuss the Employee Free Choice Act, which it opposes.

“We believe that the ‘card-check bill’ is bad for business and have been on record as opposing it for some time,” wrote Simon.

He said later in the letter that Wal-Mart has given equally to Democrats and Republicans, and it “does not take sides” when it comes to politics.

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