Wal-Mart media summit provokes unions

BENTONVILLE, AR: As part of its ongoing effort to improve its image, Wal-Mart is hosting its first-ever media conference for 50 invited print journalists this week near company headquarters in Arkansas.

BENTONVILLE, AR: As part of its ongoing effort to improve its image, Wal-Mart is hosting its first-ever media conference for 50 invited print journalists this week near company headquarters in Arkansas.

Senior company officials, including CEO Lee Scott, will address reporters during the two-day conference, scheduled for tomorrow and Wednesday of this week. Journalists will also have the opportunity to tour Wal-Mart's facilities in the area.

"We are doing this to send a clear signal of Wal-Mart's willingness to be open with the media," said Mona Williams, VP, corporate communications.

Wal-Mart plans to make the media event an annual one and to expand it to broadcast outlets in the future, Williams said.

But already critics of the retail giant seem intent to steal the spotlight. CNN reported that the AFL-CIO, which has long been at odds with Wal-Mart, will be staging demonstrations during the conference.

Christy Setzer, media outreach specialist at the union, said, "Wal-Mart is, by their own admission, on this damage-control tour. This is part of that. They would rather spend millions on an extensive PR effort than change their business practices."

Last week another union, the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), teamed up with 21 members of Congress to protest Wal-Mart's sponsorship of a segment on Good Morning America called "Only in America." A letter from the members of Congress to ABC News president David Westin asked him to drop Wal-Mart as a sponsor, citing objections to its labor practices and the lack of US-made products in it stores.

Paul Blank, director of the UFCW's Wal-Mart campaign, said the company was seeking to "find a PR way to wrap itself in the flag" through its sponsorship deal. He said the union is set to launch an "aggressive campaign," online and offline, to build a grassroots anti-Wal-Mart coalition throughout the US.

Blank said that the company's upcoming media conference is proof that the unions' campaigns are having an effect.

Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman dismissed the letter as UFCW "misinformation."

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