Anti-Wal-Mart groups urging better pay, benefits merge

Two union-backed groups announced Friday they are merging so they can consolidate their efforts to pressure Wal-Mart StoresWMT, the world's largest retailer, to provide higher pay and better benefits.

Wal-Mart Watch, backed by the Service Employees International Union, will move under the name WakeUpWalMart.com, a group backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. In separate efforts, the groups have spent years criticizing Wal-Mart, issuing news releases, running ads and enlisting Wal-Mart workers.

UFCW spokeswoman Meghan Scott says the groups share the same goals of pushing Wal-Mart to pay higher wages and improve health coverage and other benefits.

"It makes a lot more sense to be doing this together," Scott said. "We know the size of the company we're up against," Scott said.

Wal-Mart has a market capitalization of nearly $195 billion and 1.4 million U.S. workers. Adding its international business, Wal-Mart has more than 2 million employees.

Scott said the new group doesn't have a big splash planned, but it is organizing events in a number of cities for the second week in August to push for better health coverage for Wal-Mart workers. The unions have said that when a company as large as Wal-Mart makes changes, the effects ripple through other companies.

Last month, Wal-Mart and the SEIU joined to endorse the Obama administration's proposal to mandate that employers provide health insurance.

The unions began the direct assault on Wal-Mart after years of failure in trying to unionize its workers.

Originally, Wal-Mart bristled at the criticism, with then-CEO Lee Scott in 2005 likening the attacks to being "nibbled to death by guppies." But he went on to meet with critics and make changes within the company. By the time he resigned last January, Scott had greatly softened the company's image.

UFCW President Joe Hansen said working families are still struggling, "while corporations like Wal-Mart continue to reap record profits."

"The UFCW is standing with them to achieve the health care and labor law reforms that will restore and expand the middle class," Hansen said.

Wal-Mart didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company's share price gained 4 cents to $49.92 in after-hours trading Friday, following a decline of 10 cents in the regular session.

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