First Wal-Mart union begins in China thanks to gov't
Andrew McLemore
Published: Sunday August 3, 2008

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The first Wal-Mart trade union in China was formed after the company bowed to government demands for organized labor in its stores, The New York Times reported Friday.

Wal-Mart's reluctance to allow unions, particularly in the United States where they remain banned from stores, has been a point of controversy for many years. But the government-controlled All-China Federation of Trade Unions fought for the right to create branches in the company's 60 outlets.

Beth Keck, director of international corporate affairs for Wal-Mart, said she was aware of the reports of Chinese unions forming and said the company hopes to have a "cordial and productive relationship" with the federation.

"We know they have been interested in having a relationship with our company for some time," Keck said. "We will, of course, be looking forward to how this will evolve."

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has operations in 15 countries, many of which have at least some employees that are union members.

The United States, Keck said, is the "clear exception."

The change comes at a time when Wal-Mart is already battling the proposed Employee Free Choice Act -- which might allow unionization of Wal-Marts on this side of the ocean -- by attempting to sway its employees from voting Democratic.

While the company insists it is not telling employees how to vote, some who attended meetings with Wal-Mart human resources managers that delivered the company's anti-union line scoff at the notion.

"The meeting leader said, 'I am not telling you how to vote, but if the Democrats win, this bill will pass and you won't have a vote on whether you want a union,'" a Wal-Mart customer-service supervisor from Missouri told the paper. "I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote," she said.

Wal-Mart has fought against unions for years and has many systems in place to prevent them from forming.

As soon as Wal-Mart managers see a potential union, they are supposed to call a hotline, prompting a visit from a special team from Wal-Mart headquarters, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Former Wal-Mart manager Jon Lehman told Frontline what he would tell employees regarding unions.

"I used to stand up in front of my workers and lie to them," he said. "I used to say the talking points, that the union's a cult: 'You don't want to join a union. It's a cult. Why pay someone to speak for you? You can speak for yourself.'"

In a segment below from the documentary "Wal-Mart :The High Cost of Low Prices," former employees talk about the company's policies to prevent unionization.