For all practical purposes, it looked like a Home Depot staff meeting instead of a public hearing. The Tucson Planning Commission hearing on September 15th had an unusally high number of Home Depot “associates” in attendance. It’s not that Home Depot workers have taken a sudden interest in the operations of City government — they were summoned to the meeting by their employer. In a letter dated September 8th on Home Depot letterhead, the company urged its “Customers & Associates” to “voice their support” before the Planning Commission. “Unfortunately,” the Home Depot letter said, “the Tucson City Council is considering a ban on building new stores like The Home Depot inside the city limits.” The letter says the “ban” is “wrong for Tucson”, and warns Home Depot employees that “if we are going to build any more Home Depot stores in Tucson, we need your help.” The Depot says they have plans to build “several new stores” in Tucson, and to shut down one store already built “to make it more customer friendly”. The company is apparently not concerned about making its stores more “neighborhood friendly”, because the City Ordinance mentioned by local officials only deals with stores bigger than the size of two football fields (100,000 s.f. or larger). The ordinance not only isn’t a ban on stores, but it only proposes design guidelines to make stores compatible with surrounding properties. In its lobbying letter, Home Depot asks its employees to send back a postcard that Home Depot would use in lobbying the City Council. The card asks its employees to speak at the City Council, write a letter, and call the Mayor. As a result of this lobbying of its own workers, the hearing room on September 15th. resembled a Home Depot employee training workshop more than public hearing. A similar campaign by Home Depot in Wisconsin backfired when local officials complained to the press that Home Depot was trying to harass them with phone calls after officials rejected a Home Depot store. Home Depot is pushing to locate in the El Con mall in Tucson despite the fact that Wal-Mart has recently backed out of the project. The Depot is seeking to obtain a building permit in a race against the clock, before the City Council can impose a revised ordinance to review larger projects.
If you were a Home Depot worker, and you knew the management wanted you to show up for a city hearing, and you knew your employer was soliciting cards of support, and would have a list of names of workers who responded, would you feel any pressure to respond? Would you be concerned that your job might be influenced positively or negatively by your response to such requests? The letter from the company ends: “The Home Depot thanks you for your support.” In many other cases across the country, Home Depot has asked its workers to show up at public hearings, and even paid them on the clock to do so, to give the appearance of public support for a project. Sometimes these workers are not residents or voters of the affected community.