Last week, Wal-mart Watch sent me an email in which they vehemently disagreed with the statement in the NYT that SEIU president Andy Stern's burgeoning relationship with Wal-mart CEO Lee Scott was likely to make WMW back off a little.
Look at our campaign's track record. This year, you've continued to spread our message, making WakeUpWalMart.com one of the largest grassroots movements in America. 427,000 grassroots activists have joined our campaign, a supporter base larger than the population of Miami.
Your overwhelming support for maltreated Wal-Mart workers like Debbie Shank and Olga Sanchez nearly crashed our web servers. Just this year, you've sent hundreds of thousands of emails to newspapers and politicians. Frankly, you've done more to change Wal-Mart in the past few months than we have space to mention.
The real story wasn't told in today's article....
Maybe not but the article itself (reprinted online by WMW) asks some legitimate questions about Stern's influence over WMW (the union pays for it) as well as the possible effects of Stern's increasingly cozy tete-a-tetes with Scott.
Over the last several months, a confidential report has circulated within the headquarters of Wal-Mart Stores, proposing sweeping changes to its employee health care plans.
It looks like a typical corporate planning document, but it is not. The nine-page report, written by an Emory University professor, Kenneth E. Thorpe, was commissioned, paid for and given to Wal-Mart by its longtime foes, the Service Employees International Union, and a group the union finances, called Wal-Mart Watch. They are known for attacking the chain, not cooperating with it.
But after waging an aggressive public relations campaign against Wal-Mart for three years, the company's full-time, union-backed critics, who once vowed never to let up, are putting down their cudgels.
Shrill condemnations and embarrassing leaked documents are giving way to acknowledgments of progress -- and, in the case of Wal-Mart Watch, free advice.
"It's fair to say we have been less in-your-face," said David Nassar, the executive director of Wal-Mart Watch, which had hammered the company in stinging newspaper advertisements and provocative reports with titles like "Shameless: How Wal-Mart Bullies Its Way Into Communities Across America."
The health care plan itself is on hold. The Thorpe Report is "circulating" and there are rumors to the effect that Wal-mart is actually going to build its next proposal around Thorpe's recommendations but until WM actually shows us a draft (at the very least) it's a good idea to withhold judgment on it. Scott has a long-time history of nodding yes yes yes to get critics off his back but then going right on with his standard anti-union, anti-worker, anti-safety, anti-living-wage policies. If he has finally decided to bite the bullet and offer something real in the way of employee health care, fine. We'll be the first to cheer. But - we ain't holding our breath.
What's far more troubling are the rumors circulating about the way Stern has responded to Scott's demands for a cease-fire from his critics. And it's true that WMW seems to have pulled up its skirts a bit. Looking at my emails, they have gone from sending out a bulletin every week or two to barely one a month. I received none at all in January and April when negotiations were taking place between Stern and Scott.
That doesn't prove anything and we'll have to wait to see if indeed the pace of criticism falls off markedly over the long term. But otoh, it makes some sense to assume that Stern might have had to promise fewer attacks and less scathing criticisms of Wal-mart in order to win the healthcare concession from Scott. It also makes sense that if he is the major (or perhaps only) funder of WMW, they might have to lay off for awhile, too, or go out of business altogether.
Here's where I think the rubber meets the road: if the new health care plans are significantly improved over the last version (almost anything would be, so the word "significantly" is key here), then giving Scott some breathing room is justifiable. If they are not, if the changes are cosmetic or illusory, that would mean that Scott has successfully manipulated Stern and WMW into an unwarranted truce, and tricked them into getting WM some badly-needed rest from criticism and some Good Press without the workers getting very much in return. Wouldn't be the first time he's pulled that one.
This is a bit of inside baseball, perhaps, but since everything WM does or doesn't do ends up being copied by the rest of corporate America, what they do is important to watch and evaluate.
Stay tuned for further development. We now return you to your regular programming.