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Wal-Mart Under Fire After Publicist Discovered Spying On Pro-Labor Group’s Meeting

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Wal-Mart is being called out by a pro-labor group after a publicist for the retail giant posed as a reporter to sneak into the group’s meetings, according to an online report.

Warehouse Workers United and other local labor groups have teamed up to challenge Wal-Mart’s plan to open a new store in the L.A. Chinatown area.

Gawker.com reported that WWU was holding a closed press meeting last week to discuss labor conditions for Wal-Mart’s warehouse workers when a Wal-Mart publicist infiltrated the meeting by saying she was a reporter.

“It was a closed press conference Wednesday June 6. She signed in on our media list as “Zoe Mitchell” a “USC student” (there’s pic of that on our website). She talked to a warehouse worker for 20 minutes and she tape recorded the interview and asked lots of detailed questions about the bad conditions in which he worked. Warehouse worker said she was shaking the whole time…

“Then yesterday, June 13, she showed up at another press conference we had in Downtown LA announce the largest anti-Walmart rally in US history. They are trying to open a store in Chinatown. She showed up there but was handing out business cards to all the reporters and telling people she works for Walmart. Her name on the business cards is Stephanie Harnett,” WWU’s Elizabeth Brennan told Gawker.

Stephanie Harnett was working as an associate at Mercury Public Affairs, a PR company that Wal-Mart has paid $60,000 to help apparently bolster support for the proposed Chinatown location, Gawker reported.

WWU posted a photo of Harnett posing as “Zoe Mitchell” on its website. They also asked members to chide Harnett on Twitter today — her account has since been deleted.

“These actions were unacceptable, misleading and wrong. Our culture of integrity is a constant at Walmart and by not properly identifying herself, this individual’s behavior was contrary to our values and the way we do business. We insist that all our vendors conduct themselves in a way that is transparent and honest and we will reinforce that expectation to help ensure this type of activity is not repeated,” Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo told Gawker.

According to a letter from Mercury Public Affairs to Gawker, the PR firm was unaware of Harnett’s spy tactics and she is “no longer with the company.”

“The action taken by Ms. Harnett was in no way approved, authorized, or directed by Walmart or Mercury. Stephanie is a junior member of our team who made an immature decision.  She showed very poor judgment and Mercury takes full responsibility. We are taking the necessary disciplinary actions. This is an isolated incident that has never happened before and will not happen again,” Becky Warren, managing director for Mercury, told CBS2 in a written statement.

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