BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- The brawl between Wal-Mart and its union critics is escalating as groups on both sides, fighting over whether the world's largest retailer is good or bad, launched attack-style websites maligning each other's motives and politics.
More than a year after unions launched two political-style campaign groups attacking Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for what they say are low wages and skimpy benefits, the language is turning meaner and more personal.
Paidcritics.com was started last week by Working Families for Wal-Mart, a group funded primarily by Wal-Mart, to reveal what it described as ``the real motives of the union leaders behind the campaign against Wal-Mart."
It characterized one of its leading critics, Andrew Grossman of union-backed Wal-Mart Watch, as ``a political operative with a checkered past" in a section called that also lambasted Wayne Hanley, head of the Canadian chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
The site is part of Wal-Mart's aggressive defense since last year against its increasingly organized critics. Wal-Mart won't say how much it is spending, but it has set up a campaign-style ``war room" staffed by consultants, hired Washington, D.C., lobbyists, formed the Working Families group, and created another website called Wal-Mart Facts.
In response to the new site, union-funded WakeUpWalMart.com started its own website yesterday, which attacks the retailer's public relations and lobbying figures.
In a letter to Democratic members of Congress about Wal-Mart's efforts, WakeUpWalMart said the attacks were reminiscent of a campaign by a pro-Bush group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, that questioned Senator John Kerry's Vietnam War military record during the 2004 presidential race.
Corporate reputation management expert Steven Silvers called paidcritics.com ``a name-calling, nastily aggressive little website" that marked an escalation in Wal-Mart's battle with critics.
Specialists say there is no clear winner yet in the public relations battle. Union groups decry what they call Wal-Mart's low wages, poor health benefits, and destruction of local economies. Wal-Mart says it creates jobs, provides low-cost insurance for employees, and saves the average family $2,300 a year by keeping prices low.