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Wal-Mart Accused of Unfair Labor Practice

A union seeks papers on purported anti-union payments by a former executive fired for allegedly fake expenses.

April 13, 2005|From Times Wire Services

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which is trying to organize workers at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., filed unfair-labor practice charges against the world's largest retailer Tuesday to get it to release documents related to the ouster of its former vice chairman and alleged anti-union efforts.

The filing with the National Labor Relations Board aims to "seek justice for workers at Wal-Mart," not financial rewards, according to UFCW spokesman Jim Papian. "There is a pattern of illegal activities on the part of this company."

After investigating the documents, the NLRB could hold a hearing before an administrative law judge if it finds the case holds merit. It also could issue such remedies as making information about workplace rights available to Wal-Mart employees.

The UFCW's move follows a Wall Street Journal article last week that documents suggested that Thomas M. Coughlin, the company's former vice chairman and longtime board member, had subordinates create fake invoices to get Wal-Mart to pay for his personal expenses. Coughlin, however, told several employees that the money was for secret payments to union members willing to identify pro-union employees at stores, the Journal reported.

Wal-Mart has strongly denied that any such payments to union members were made.

"To the contrary, the evidence shows that corporate funds were misappropriated and used for the personal benefit of specific individuals," the company said in a statement.

Wal-Mart said no one at the company was authorized to pay people for information about efforts to organize Wal-Mart stores.

Coughlin resigned last month after an internal probe turned up expense account improprieties that could total $500,000.

Three Wal-Mart employees, including an executive, also lost their jobs, and the company turned over materials to federal prosecutors.

Coughlin has denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyer is pressing the company to provide the defense with documents given to federal prosecutors related to the former Wal-Mart executive's conduct.

Mona Williams, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday's NLRB filing.

Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., has fought off efforts by the UFCW to organize its U.S. stores.

Wal-Mart shares increased 12 cents to $48.63 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Also Tuesday, Wal-Mart said that it would spend $35 million to preserve wildlife habitats in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

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Associated Press and Bloomberg News were used in compiling this report.

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