Wal-Mart is sending off its former number 2 man without his lucrative retirement agreement. Tom Coughlin, the company’s former Vice Chairman of the Board Directors, who once said, “At Wal-Mart we make dust, our competitors eat dust,” had to eat a little dust of his own this week. His former employee disclosed that Couglin’s multi-million dollar retirement package was being taken off the table, amid charges that the Vice Chairman improperly used company funds to spy on union activities. Wal-Mart sent a letter to Coughlin’s lawyer saying that the company was firing Coughlin retroactively for “gross misconduct.” The move means that Coughlin will forfeit all outstanding stock awards and all incentive payments under his retirement agreement. Two months ago, Wal-Mart froze millions of dollars in Coughlin’s benefits, suspended his vesting in 186,407 in company stock, and 302,503 in stock options. According to the Associated Press, just Coughlin’s stock alone was worth nearly $10 million. Coughlin is still under investigation by a federal grand jury for misspending company funds. Wal-Mart is now accusing its own Vice Chairman of perpetrating “a scheme to misappropriate corporate funds and property for his own personal benefit.” Coughlin responded that he had done nothing wrong, and that his use of corporate money and property was related to “union activity” for which he was obtaining “reimbursement.” It has been reported that Coughlin used Wal-Mart funds to hire union members to spy on union activity and strategies. In a separate incident, the giant retailer also revealed that its community affairs director for Arizona and Southern California had resigned in the wake of a controversial ad that featured a Nazi book burning photo, comparing Wal-Mart opponents to Nazis. Peter Kanelos, who was responsible for public relations in the two state area, left the company on Friday. Citizen’s groups in California and Arizona were familiar with Kanelos as the spinmeister for Wal-Mart in their region. Wal-Mart apologized for a full-page ad in an Flagstaff, Arizona newspaper that featured a photo of a 1933 Nazi book-burning. The company would not say that it pushed Kanelos out, only that he “resigned.” Kanelos told the Associated Press he was leaving the company “on mutually agreeable terms.” The ad paid for by Wal-Mart was part of a campaign to stop a zoning ballot question in Flagstaff, Arizona. The Anti-Defamation League criticized the ad, and Wal-Mart even set up a phone hotline for people to call the company to air their complaints about the ad. The ad was also mentioned by Rob Walton, Wal-Mart’s Chairman of the Board, at the company’s Annual Meeting in early June. “We’re just a bunch of humans trying to run this company,” Walton told stockholders. “We make mistakes.” Kanelos told reporters that he resigned two weeks ago, and was anticipating “more time to spend with my family.” Maybe Kanelos and Coughlin will spend some time comparing exits over a game of golf.
Citizen groups fighting Wal-Mart across the country should remember Rob Walton’s words, “We’re just a bunch of humans trying to run this company.” Citizens can respond, “We’re just a bunch of humans trying to stop this company.” Either way, the public got to see this week that not only is Wal-Mart made up of humans, but some humans who are capable of making big mistakes and lapses in judgment. For earlier stories on these two Wal-Mart former “associates,” search Newsflash by their names.