Policy: Labor

Walmart cozies up to White House, annoying unions

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Barack Obama,President,Labor,Walmart,Minimum Wage,Solar Energy

President Obama was set Friday to tout Walmart today at a store in Mountain View, Calif., praising it for expanding use of solar energy at its stores.

The event is proof that the retail giant's efforts to build bridges with the administration are paying off in a big way -- something that has Obama's allies in Big Labor seething.

"While he's in California, I would hope President Obama would speak directly to Walmart employees and hear from them about their daily struggles to pay the rent and put food on the table," said Maria Elena Durazo, the executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, according to the Associated Press. Labor leaders have grumbled about this administration's friendliness with the retailer in the past too.

Big Labor despises Walmart, which is nonunion, and has been engaged in a long-running struggle to try to bring it to heel either by organizing its employees or hurting its public Image. Part of the retailer's strategy in response has been to try to drive a wedge between union leaders and their liberal allies.

This is not a new strategy for Walmart. Although generally associated with "red state" America, the retail giant has long reached out to the other side of the aisle. Hillary Clinton, for example, was on Walmart's board of directors from 1986 through 1992.

Walmart has made a particular effort to work with the Obama administration. It recently lobbied in favor of the Democrats' efforts to raise the minimum wage and has held events with first lady Michelle Obama to tout her good nutrition programs.

The liberal Center for American Progress confirmed last year that the Walmart was one of it corporate funders. The center, a nonprofit group that functions as a Democratic public-relations machine, has extremely close ties to the White House. Founder John Podesta left it in December to join Obama's staff as a top adviser.

Podesta's brother Tony is a prominent Washington lobbyist at a firm the two brothers founded in 1987. Among the Podesta Group's clients is Walmart.

The "both sides" strategy pays off for Walmart in other ways too. Backing the Democrats' $10.10 minimum wage proposal, for example, won't hurt the retailer much. According to payscale.com, it already often pays its employees at or above that. Smaller competitors -- the kind of mom-and-pop stores liberals often say they are defending against Walmart -- will be less likely to afford the increase in their labor costs. That will give the retail giant another competitive advantage.

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