LOS ANGELES – Warehouse workers who move Walmart goods have filed charges against Walmart and its PR firm for illegally spying on workers and are calling on the retail giant to drop Mercury Public Affairs as a contracted lobbying firm.
Workers filed charges after learning last week that a senior associate for Mercury was caught lying about her identity and spying on low-wage warehouse workers.
“We are fighting for better jobs for warehouse workers in Southern California,” said Santos Castaneda, a warehouse worker who was interviewed by a Mercury Public Affairs senior associate posing as a student journalist. “Warehouse workers risk retaliation every time we speak to the media and to learn that the company was hiding behind a fake reporter makes me really mad.”
Walmart has paid tens of thousands of dollars to Mercury to lobby for an unpopular new store in LA’s Chinatown After the scandal was revealed last week, Walmart spokesperson Steve Restivo said in a statement:
“These actions were unacceptable, misleading and wrong. Our culture of integrity is a constant at Walmart and by not properly identifying herself, this individual’s behavior was contrary to our values and the way we do business. We insist that all our vendors conduct themselves in a way that is transparent and honest and we will reinforce that expectation to help ensure this type of activity is not repeated.”
According to its “Statement of Ethics,” Walmart’s guiding principles include “always act with integrity,” “lead with integrity,” “expect others to work with integrity” and “follow the law at all times.”
“If Walmart truly is concerned about integrity it will fire Mercury Public Affairs after learning its senior associate lied about her identity,” said Guadalupe Palma, a campaign director for Warehouse Workers United, an organization committed to improving warehousing jobs in Southern California. “We are asking that Walmart to drop this firm and deal honestly with workers and the people of Los Angeles.”
“We want Walmart to disclose why it sent a fake reporter, why she was taking notes and what she did with the information. More importantly we want to know how Walmart is dealing with its renegade contractors. No one has been held accountable in the Mexico bribery scandal, for the treatment of warehouse workers, and now with its PR firm.”
Just in the last few months several major developments call into question Walmart’s claim that it fosters a “culture of integrity”:
- Walmart is currently embroiled in a massive bribery scandal in Mexico in which The New York Times uncovered millions of dollars of bribes associated with massive expansion throughout Mexico.
- The National Employment Law Project released a detailed report this month about Walmart’s massive adverse effects on Latino warehouse workers in Southern California who labor moving Walmart goods.
- Major pension funds have sued Walmart for its failed leadership and lack of transparency in the wake of the bribery scandal in Mexico.
- The website gawker.com revealed a pattern of Walmart using PR firms to spy on activists and concerned community members and to report back to its home office in Bentonville, Arkansas.
The charges were filed with the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board, which prohibits spying on workers. Workers are also requesting that the U.S. Department of Labor investigate whether Mercury and Walmart have properly disclosed their spending as required by the law.