Wal-Mart seeks public affairs firm to replace Mercury

LOS ANGELES: Wal-Mart is looking for an agency to replace Mercury Public Affairs, which it parted ways with late last week.

LOS ANGELES: Wal-Mart is looking for an agency to replace Mercury Public Affairs, which it parted ways with late last week.

Steve Restivo, the retailer's senior director of community affairs, released few other details about the search in an email to PRWeek, other than to say his company has yet to select a firm. The company is not actively soliciting propositions for the work.

Lobbying records show Mercury was paid $60,000 to support the retailer as it worked to open a store in Los Angeles' Chinatown section.  

Wal-Mart ended its relationship with Mercury after one of the firm's employees pretended to be a reporter to get into an event hosted by Warehouse Workers United. The group has accused Wal-Mart of not paying some warehouse employees minimum wage or providing them with regular breaks and air conditioning.

“We addressed these actions as unacceptable, misleading, and wrong,” Restivo said in an emailed statement. “We take this matter seriously and have taken the appropriate steps to ensure this type of activity is not repeated.”

Mercury has fired Stephanie Harnett, the employee at the center of the controversy, said agency managing director Roger Salazar. He reiterated that Harnett's supervisors had no prior knowledge of her actions.

“It was wrong not because she got caught, but because it was wrong,” Salazar said. “It's unfortunate someone lost her job. The lesson has to be taught that ethics does trump ambition.”

Mercury is using Harnett's departure as a teachable moment for some of its younger staffers, Salazar said.

Warehouse Workers United has filed spying charges against Wal-Mart at a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. The organization has also requested the US Labor Department investigate whether the retailer has properly disclosed spending about its relationship with Mercury.

Harnett did not respond to request for comment.

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