Scrutinizing Wal-Mart … Always.

Posted June 14, 2005 at 5:21pm

As Wal-Mart Stores Inc. staffs up its Washington, D.C., outpost, the worldwide retail giant continues to fend off missives at the state and local level. The D.C.-based group Wal-Mart Watch is sending out three-page letters this week to local politicians and officials, yet again denouncing the retailer for low wages and substandard benefits, according to a copy of the correspondence.

“As an elected official, you can help change policies that put responsible employers at a disadvantage … and distort the economic development process in favor of powerful special interests,” reads the letter signed by Wal-Mart Watch Executive Director Andrew Grossman.

Instead, the letter encourages elected officials to support health care legislation such as the bill vetoed by Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) that would have required companies with more than 10,000 employees (such as Wal-Mart) to spend at least 8 percent of payroll on health benefits. The letter also outlines measures on “living wage ordinances” and “big-box taxes” for which the group wants support.

[IMGCAP(1)]Tracy Sefl, communications director of Wal-Mart Watch, said this letter is the second communiqué with these local lawmakers. Wal-Mart, she said, “has taken notice of our efforts.” So the group plans to push forward with its lobbying effort and “laying out explicit policies,” she said.

Ray Bracy, Wal-Mart’s vice president of federal and international public affairs, said groups like Wal-Mart Watch present a one-sided view.

“They’re discounting the fact that we are creating 100,000 jobs and pay a lot of money in taxes,” he said.

The last time Wal-Mart Watch sent a dispatch to state lawmakers, Bracy said, Wal-Mart responded to the charges with a follow-up letter.

Bracy also said, “If the benefits are so bad and the pay is so terrible, why have we had as many as 15,000 applicants for 500 jobs?”

Politics of Postal Reform. Postal reform legislation has bipartisan support and basically no opposition within mail-dependent industries, yet a House bill that is ready for the floor isn’t moving forward with the speed lobbyists had expected, a handful of K Streeters said.

Its hurdles are formidable. The White House and conservative Members have said they want a reform bill that costs taxpayers less. Two major budgetary sticking points include a skirmish over who should pay for the pensions of retired postal workers who were also military employees and whether the U.S. Postal Service can access funds it overpaid into its pension fund.

One GOP Congressional aide said flatly: “You have a bad bill currently that

costs too much and doesn’t have enough reforms on the labor side. This is a Republican majority, and I think a lot of our members are skeptical as to why our Government Reform committee” produced this bill.

Some conservative House Members have also sought more sweeping overhauls of the USPS, including consolidating postal facilities and limiting collective bargaining provisions.

“You’ve got these really arcane budget rules that are deflecting attention from the point of how important the underlying reform bill is,” said Preston Gates Ellis and Rouvelas Meeds’ Bruce Heiman, whose postal reform clients include Pitney Bowes, a company that makes postal equipment. “I think a number of industry groups are reminding Members of the importance of the underlying legislation.”

A former senior Congressional staffer involved in postal issues said that the “mailing industry and printing industry are relatively unsophisticated and ineffective in lobbying on Capitol Hill.”

Supporters of the postal reform bill in the House said that passing it is urgent to save money that taxpayers would otherwise have to cough up.

“It’s urgent in the sense that this bill saves $6 billion in taxpayer dollars over the next 10 years. It’s important not only for taxpayers but all those not-for-profit organizations that depend on the postal service,” said a spokeswoman for Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.), who sponsored the bill.

A Senate postal bill is planned for markup on June 22.

Next (Pit) Stop: Congress? A company that markets urinals for big-rig trucks is taking its cause to government officials and possible customers around the nation.

Joe Nicassio, the director of marketing for Pit Stop, said his company’s product is an alternative to increased government fines and regulations for what he calls “pee bombs” — the dumping of urine-filled bottles out of trucks.

“We’ve got truckers that live in their trucks,” he explained. “What’s happened is they wake up in the middle of the night and need to take a pee. So they will basically pee in anything they can, in Gatorade bottles and milk jugs, and then they are dumping them on the road.”

To quell the problem, Colorado and Washington state recently increased their fines for the dumping of human waste. “When roadside workers that pick up trash find a pee bottle, they have to call Hazmat in,” which is expensive, Nicassio said.

The Pit Stop, he said, has a tank and a valve for flushing. “It’s designed for men and women, too,” he said.

“Raising the fines isn’t gonna stop the drivers from having to pee,” he said. “We’re just trying to create awareness of a solution to the problem.”

Sadly, Nicassio said, Pit Stop doesn’t yet have much of a lobbying budget. But he said, “we’re going international” with the product.

K Street Moves. The lobbying firm American Defense International has hired Nancy Norton as senior vice president for business development. A native of Plantation, Fla., Norton graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and is a former Navy pilot. More importantly for her consulting career, Norton served in the Navy’s legislative liaison office and worked in business development and lobbying at Raytheon and General Atomics, two big defense contractors. She also worked as a Defense Department fellow in the office of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and as military legislative assistant for Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

Joe Trauger, a senior policy adviser to House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is joining the all-Republican Federalist Group as senior vice president. Trauger handled health care, veterans, labor and legal reform issues for Blunt, whose staff he joined in 2003. Previously, he served as a policy adviser to then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas).