(CNSNews.com) - A pro-union, anti-Wal-Mart group Friday launched "a new and exciting step to empower" employees of the company by forming a "national association" called the Wal-Mart Workers of America. The "national association" is not a union.
A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart dismissed the strategy as "nothing new" and accused the anti-Wal-Mart group of trying to obtain union dues from the company's workers even before a union is created.
But the Wake Up Wal-Mart campaign continues its relentless criticism of the world's number one retailer. "Every day, 1.3 million workers help make Wal-Mart one of America's most profitable companies, and yet, every day, it seems Wal-Mart finds new ways to exploit these hard-working Americans," said Paul Blank, campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com, during a news conference in Washington, D.C.
The new "association," Blank said, "will be a powerful tool to help Wal-Mart's workers join together to improve their lives and make Wal-Mart change for the better." He added that Wal-Mart Workers of America (WWOA) will help employees "improve their working conditions, their lives and change Wal-Mart into a more responsible and moral corporation.
"Let there be no doubt: The WWOA will finally create a 'real open door' for change -- a door Wal-Mart will never be able to close," said Blank
Also on Friday, the "association" officially launched its first membership drive with plans to reach 100,000 workers at America's largest retailer through grassroots actions and a community-based radio and print advertising campaign.
Membership in WWOA is free to all former and current Wal-Mart workers and will provide an array of services to members, including: how to qualify for health-care money; a toll-free hotline to provide advice and consultation about workplace issues; and information about class-action lawsuits affecting Wal-Mart workers.
As part of its launch, the WWOA is offering 50 uninsured Wal-Mart workers the opportunity to qualify for $200 in health-care money. The assistance offered is the result of over $10,000 raised by more than 100 grassroots Halloween fund-raisers held by WakeUpWalMart.com supporters last week in 84 cities in 22 states.
According to Buffy Wicks, deputy coordinator of the Wake Up Wal-Mart Campaign, the WWOA is being founded in response to Wal-Mart's secret memo and the company's troubling record of exploiting its workers.
Written by Wal-Mart Executive Vice President Susan Chambers, the memo outlined a "series of shocking recommendations," according to Wicks, including: plans to cut costs further by reducing hours; shifting from full-time to part-time workers; pushing out senior workers; and cutting health-care costs by dissuading unhealthy or obese people from applying.
In addition, Wicks noted that "Wal-Mart has a long and well-documented record of exploiting its workers, including forcing them to work off-the-clock, discriminating against female employees and breaking child labor laws.
"Both the Wal-Mart memo and its unwillingness to substantively change how it treats its workers has led to the creation of the Wal-Mart Workers of America," Wicks added.
However, Christi Gallagher, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, told Cybercast News Service that the Wake Up Wal-Mart campaign is "nothing new" and compared it to "starting their own secret Internet chat club.
"The unions have been trying to organize our associates through the Internet for several years in a lot of different states and have not had any success," she said.
Gallagher noted that anti-Wal-Mart forces in Florida even went so far as to ask company associates to provide their checking, savings and debit card numbers so money could be deducted from their personal accounts each month.
"So unlike a union where you get to vote and then you pay your dues, they tried to take the dues up front," Gallagher said.
"We might be concerned if this group was really offering solutions to our associates or any American workers on issues they face every day, but that's simply not the case," Gallagher added.
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, Wal-Mart will also be the focus of more than 300 labor unions and other liberal groups during "Higher Expectations Week."
That series of events, which is slated for Nov. 13-19, will feature the debut of the film "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," which is intended by WakeUpWalMart.com to pressure the retail giant to make reforms in such areas as "affordable health care, corporate responsibility and economic justice."
See Earlier Stories:
Protesters Target 'Shocking, Secret' Wal-Mart Memo (Oct. 28, 2005)
Wal-Mart Must Meet 'Higher Expectations,' Campaign Says (Sept. 30, 2005)
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