June 18, 2012

Unions Paid At Least $162,000 In 2011 To PR Firm That Helped Wal-Mart Spy On Workers

Last week, Republic Report was the first news outlet to report that Mercury Public Affairs, a powerful public relations and lobbying firm, sent a staffer posing as a “journalist” to spy on warehouse workers on behalf of its client Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart and Mercury acknowledged their relationship but claimed that the staffer, Stephanie Harnett, was working on her own and soon Ms. Harnett was apparently let go. However, Gawker reports that there have been other cases of Wal-Mart enlisting PR firms to spy on workers.

Now that we know that Mercury is working for Wal-Mart as part of its campaign against union workers, the question arises: Who else is Mercury working for?

The answer, surprisingly, is unions themselves. Using publicly available data on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website, I found that two unions — Teamsters Joint Council 16 of New York and the Service Employees Leadership Council of California — paid Mercury for services in 2011 (there did not appear to be any that paid Mercury in 2012).

Here are the files, first for the Service Employees Leadership Council:

Here’s Teamsters Joint Council 16:


If these labor unions didn’t know about Mercury’s involvement with corporations that are trying to bust unions before, they do now.

Tellingly, major corporations are not universally required to report which public relations firms they have hired to do business for them. I was able to find this data because of requirements on unions about how they spend their assets. Mercury does not disclose all of its clients.