ATLANTA — UNITE representatives Wednesday morning accused discount retailer Fred’s Inc. of unfair labor practices and of importing goods from Myanmar, a country known for human rights violations.

The union for a year has been battling to organize workers at Fred’s Memphis distribution center, which employs around 450 workers. A May 2002 vote by workers to unionize, which passed by 70 percent, is under an appeal by management with the National Labor Relations Board in Washington. Union officials accused Fred’s of stalling the process, firing around 20 union supporters since the vote last year and dodging issues by moving its shareholders’ meeting, normally held at its headquarters city of Memphis, Tenn., to rural Dublin, Ga..

“We can add one more executive, Fred’s chief executive officer Michael Hayes, to a growing list of executives in corporate America who are following a pattern of mistreating and lying to workers,” said Harris Raynor, vice president and southern regional director for UNITE, at an Atlanta press conference. Raynor drew parallels between Fred’s worker relations and its willingness to import goods from Myanmar, which has been the target of protests for years because its ruling military regime has been accused of using citizens as slave laborers. Early this month legislation was introduced in Congress calling for a ban on all imports from Myanmar, formerly Burma.

Union representatives from Burma’s exiled government presented copies of receipts that document garment shipments to Fred’s from the Crocodile Trading Co. Ltd., a manufacturer with seven factories in Myanmar.

Fred’s Hayes could not be reached for comment. But Tommy Burkley, Fred’s senior vice president of marketing and advertising, described allegations of Fred’s firing and mistreating employees as “fabricated.”

He acknowledged “some workers that may have supported unionization had been discharged,” but added, “no employees have been fired without due course through human resources and our legal departments.” Burkley said turnover at the distribution center is high.

Regarding Myanmar, Burkley said Fred’s has never sourced directly from that Asian nation, but has bought Myanmar-made goods through manufacturers’ representatives and buying agents. Fred’s has since discontinued the practice, he said.“We’ve stopped orders of Burma goods after it was brought to our attention, several months ago,” he said. “Orders are placed a year in advance and once they’re in route to the West Coast, we can’t do anything to stop them.”

He added that Fred’s moved its annual meeting to Dublin because it had opened a distribution center there.

Fred’s is a general merchandise chain, with 457 stores in 14 Southeastern states.

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