Walmart on defensive after PR officer found ‘spying’ on union workers
Company denies having Stephanie Harnett pretend to be a reporter to interview workers on job conditions
A public relations officer linked to Walmart posed as a journalist at a press conference held by a labor group highlighting tough working conditions in the warehouses that supply big retailers.
Stephanie Harnett, a publicist working for Mercury Communications, which has been retained by Walmart to assist in its effort to open a new store in the Chinatown area of Los Angeles, claimed to be a student journalist called “Zoe Mitchell” when she turned up at the event on 6 June.
She then spoke to and recorded an interview with an activist from Warehouse Workers United, a group campaigning for worker improvements in the notoriously low wage industry where casual labor and poor health conditions are all too common.
The subterfuge only became apparent on Wednesday, when Harnett turned up at a different event and this time used her real name. She was spotted by members of WWU who recognised her and were stunned to see her handing out Mercury business cards with a completely different identity.
Walmart moved to distance itself from her actions on Thursday, and Mercury said neither it nor the retail giant had “approved, authorized or directed” her actions. It said she was no longer working for the firm.
WWU officials, who are backed by the Change to Win coalition of unions, are outraged at the stunt. They say Walmart – with its gigantic spending power – has a chance to improve things.
“Last week when Walmart had the chance to talk about real issues affecting Latino workers in Southern California it instead sent ‘Zoe’, a fake reporter. A spy. Our door is open. Walmart can change this industry and create thousands of good jobs and improve the quality of life in Southern California, but first it has to come out of hiding,” the WWU said in a statement.
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