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Dirty Tricks: Walmart Publicist Posed As Journalist to Infiltrate Labor Meeting

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A publicist hired by Walmart posed as a student journalist from USC in order to infiltrate a labor meeting and talk to warehouse workers about working conditions.The group Warehouse Workers United is working to improve conditions for workers at area Walmarts. That effort is taking on special importance as Walmart (like other big box stores) makes its move from the suburbsinto the heart of the city. Labor groups have been trying to block Walmart's effort to move into Chinatown (without much luck so far).

Last Wednesday, Warehouse Workers United held a closed press conference on June 6 so that reporters could talk to Walmart workers. That's when a woman identified as "USC student" Zoe Mitchell signed in and went undercover. WWU told Gawker that she tape-recorded a 20-minute interview with a warehouse worker about the bad conditions in which he worked. Going undercover might have been a little too unnerving for the flack, because the worker said she shook throughout the entire interview.

Yesterday she showed up again at a press conference with business cards in hand. But she wasn't a student, and her name wasn't Zoe. Her real name is Stephanie Harnett, and she is a senior associate at Mercury Public Affairs, the PR firm hired by Walmart.

Or she was—Mercury told Gawker that they fired her: "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."

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Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo says this isn't the way they do business: "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."