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Major Retailer Urges Workers To Take ‘Civics Course’ With Anti-Obama Content

Major Retailer Urges Workers To Take ‘Civics Course’ With Anti-Obama Content
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Written by Adele M. Stan, AlterNet

If you live in the Midwest and you’re working on a home-improvement project, you’re as likely to do your shopping at a Menards store as at a Lowe’s or Home Depot. With 270 stores and 40,000 employees , Menards is the third-largest home-improvement chain in the U.S., and one of the largest privately held corporations in the country. But Menards stores sell more than just lumber and building supplies; their employees are sold a bill of goods in the form of right-wing ideology.

This January, as the Iowa Caucuses were underway, Menards began encouraging employees to take an at-home online “civics” course that characterizes the economic policies of President Barack Obama as a threat to the success of businesses such as Menards, and by extension, to the employees’ own well-being.

FBI Investigation

The course, titled “Civics 101: The National Self Governing Will In-Home Training,” incorporates much of the material comprising the Prosperity 101 program that AlterNet, working in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, exposed last year — a program concocted by Koch-linked political operatives Mark Block and Linda Hansen, late of the now-defunct Herman Cain presidential campaign. In March, Daniel Bice of the  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the FBI is investigating possible financial improprieties involving two non-profit organizations founded by Block that are linked to Prosperity 101, which is a for-profit venture.

Menards employees who sign up for the course are graded on their knowledge via a multiple choice pass-fail test, and those who pass the test are acknowledged in company publications and bulletins. While workers are not required to take the course, those who hope for promotions may feel pressure to do so, since it is clear that management is paying attention to who is or isn’t taking the at-home classes, which are conducted on the employees’ own time. The civics course is offered as part of a battery of courses, most of which pertain to products sold by the company, or other aspects of working at Menards.

AlterNet has obtained the online textbook for the Menards civics course. The third part of the textbook, subtitled ” American Job Security,” imparts a message similar to the letter sent by Koch Industries CEO Dave Robertson to retirees and employees of the company’s Georgia Pacific subsidiary, as well as the e-mail sent to employees of Rite-Hite, a Milwaukee equipment manufacturer, by company owner Mark White, urging them to vote for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. While the Menards course doesn’t offer an explicit candidate endorsement, it describes Obama policies in threatening terms, while policies that echo Romney’s proposals are portrayed in a positive and uplifting light.

Koch-Linked Program

In our June 2011 exposé, we reported that Herman Cain and Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore conducted more than a dozen Prosperity 101 seminars for the employees of companies in Wisconsin and other Midwestern states during the campaign season for the 2010 congressional midterm elections. Hansen, we reported, was looking to create an online Prosperity 101 program for the Wisconsin-based Menards, and it appears as if something like that happened just in time for the 2012 presidential campaign season.

While it remains unclear whether the current Menards program was sold to the retailer by Prosperity 101, what is clear is that several sections of the program come directly — sometimes with minor edits — from the textbook, also called  Prosperity 101, that was distributed during a breakout session that took place at an Americans for Prosperity Foundation conference in Las Vegas in July 2010. The conference, called RightOnline, took place at the opulent Venetian, owned by right-wing super-PAC funder Sheldon Adelson, and billed by AFPF president Tim Phillips as “the only non-union hotel on the [Las Vegas] Strip.”

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation is chaired by David Koch, the multi-billionaire funder, with his brother, Charles, of numerous right-wing think tanks and interest groups, and co-owner of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in the U.S. Block is the former state director for the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the foundation’s sibling organization, and was deeply involved in effecting the sharp turn to the right that took place in Wisconsin politics in 2010 with the election of Governor Scott Walker, Sen. Ron Johnson, and Tea Party-allied members of Congress and the state legislature. (During the course of that campaign, Block was implicated in a vote-caging scheme apparently designed to suppress turnout of young people and African Americans at Milwaukee polling places. He also enjoyed a brief moment of fame as the “smoking man” in a bizarre Herman Cain campaign ad.)

Menards, as we reported last year, is notorious not just as a polluter, but as a virulently anti-labor company. One former manager told Milwaukee magazine reporter Mary van de Kamp Nohl that he wasn’t allowed to hire two job candidates because, while in high school, they had worked as baggers in a union-organized grocery store. Menards threatened store managers with a 60 percent pay-cut, according to a 2003 Forbes article, if a union managed to get a foothold in a Menards store on that manager’s watch.

So it was not surprising to learn that Menards’ voluntary at-home civics course is part of a broader training program in which employees are encouraged to take part, unpaid, on their own time, often to simply learn about products sold in various store departments. After completing any of these courses with a passing grade, the employee is given a certificate, and sometimes a prize, such as an item of apparel bearing the Menards logo.

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Photo: anastaz1a/flickr

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134 comments

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4:45PM PDT on Nov 3, 2012

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdxWzqMZ6Fw&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Good and interesting video.

11:40AM PDT on Nov 3, 2012

To Karin B.: If you sincere and would actually, vote for the most qualified person, why would the Mittster be in competition for you?

If President Obama was not 1/2 white and 1/2 black, the Mittster wouldn't even be in this elction, because the far-right conservatives would never vote for a Morman.
Watch what happens to him, after the election is over. He will become obsolete.
The Republicans had an opportunity to win this election, had they nominated someone credible and believable.
I'll stick with President Obama, who deserves a chance to get 'real' progress passed and show his worthiness.

11:32AM PDT on Nov 3, 2012

Thank Mother Nature, I am not subjected to shopping in this store.

As for the Koch Brothers, when they lose 10-20% of their sales, that is primarily, the profit margin that keeps them wealthy. The majority money goies to operating costs.
Any products with the name GEORGIA-PACIFIC, are their products.
This includes: Angel Soft.......Brawny.......Dixie.......Mardi Gras.......Quilted Northern.......SOFT'N GENTLE.......SPARKLE.......VANITY.......ZEE
It's your choice.

12:10AM PDT on Nov 3, 2012

M - E - N - A - R - D - S

Management Encourages Neoconservative And Republican Dirty Scams

Management Encourages Non-American Republican Dirty Scams.

Management Empowers Non-American Republican Dumb Schmucks.

I have a bunch of other phrases, some of them are "explicit" Pick your favorite :)

10:51AM PDT on Nov 2, 2012

We will certainly move more shopping to Rona, Canadian Tire and Home Hardware from Home Depot. Of course this man is a 1% and has no character to spout this rubbish!!

12:02AM PDT on Nov 2, 2012

Menards' employees can't tell you what a hammer is for. Local ACE.

11:33PM PDT on Nov 1, 2012

If Obama were Hitler the Neo Cons would be worshipping him after all the skin head Neo con nazis idolize hitler. The Koch bros also tried to push for segregation in schools so the Right wing should be called the Riech wing. Heck they even use red just like hitler

11:29PM PDT on Nov 1, 2012

Looks like the Krook brothers are the real voterfrauds. Like I said people don't be a Kochhead think for yourselves. Looks like the capitalist dictators are in full swing. The so called conservative Christians put Money before God and Life. Koch brothers and the like are destroying our environment and don't want anyone to stand up to them. Romney approves adds that have quotes from the Heritage foundation which is a Koch like website and Neo Con foundation is like something the Koch bros would run. This proves that the rich corrupt 1% want total governing control over the US. Thanks to people like the Krook brother we will never hear the truth or see justice because they will smother it and block it with their money and corrupt selfish hateful ways

10:42PM PDT on Nov 1, 2012

unbelievable....sickening....so very wrong...

8:05PM PDT on Nov 1, 2012

This is frightening.

The same thugs (and, yes, thugs can exist in any socioeconomic class, including Koch brothers and their sycophants) want to paint our president as some type of Hitler, are themselves using the same type of propaganda once used by the Nazi party!

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