Jim Breyer: OUR Walmart’s 2012 Tunnel Visionary of the Year

Ten-year Walmart Board member Jim Breyer has been named “Tunnel Visionary of the Year” by members of Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). The award is being given to Breyer in recognition of his “uncanny ability to overlook problems at Walmart.”

Breyer is a billionaire venture capitalist who built his fortune investing in high-tech startups, including Facebook.  He is revered in Silicon Valley for his success with high-tech venture capital projects, but Breyer’s record as a director of public companies has come in for sharp criticism lately.

Gretchen Morgenson recently wrote a devastating New York Times piece surveying Breyer’s record as a director of five public companies. “As an investor and venture capitalist, Mr. Breyer is a star,” Morgenson writes, “But as a director, his star quickly fades.”

Members of OUR Walmart will deliver the Tunnel Visionary award to Breyer on Tuesday, June 19th. That is the same day Breyer is to receive a 2012 Visionary award from the SV Forum, an elite organization of Silicon Valley investors and business leaders.

In singling out Breyer as Tunnel Visionary of the Year, OUR Walmart cited two particular elements of his record.

First, there is his failure as lead independent director to hold Walmart executives accountable for their alleged role in the Walmart de Mexico bribery scandal and the reported high-level cover up.  Notably, Breyer’s performance with respect to the Walmart de Mexico saga earned him the opposition of some major Walmart shareholders at the company’s recent annual meeting.

Secondly, OUR Walmart cited Breyer’s record of ignoring glaring evidence that Walmart follows a “broken business model of relentless cost-cutting on the backs of workers.”

It was evident at the company’s annual meeting that the company is coming to a crisis point with respect to labor relations. Thousands of workers brought to the event by Walmart applauded OUR Walmart member Jackie Goebel’s critique of management. As one Wall Street Journal reporter tweeted: “employees erupt in cheers after shareholder proposal asks mgmt for better hours, more staff”.

Recent headlines regarding labor issues at Walmart and the company’s subcontractors suggest the problems are pervasive:

  • Walmart employees speaking out through their involvement with OUR Walmart allege that they have been subject to illegal firings and disciplinary actions by Walmart management.
  • Walmart is currently facing nearly 2,000 EEOC complaints alleging gender discrimination.
  • Walmart recently agreed to a $4.8 million back pay settlement with the Department of Labor to resolve claims that the company failed to pay overtime to 4,500 vision center managers and asset protection coordinators around the country.
  • An employee of a PR firm hired by Walmart was caught posing as a student/reporter in order to spy on warehouse workers who are speaking out for better conditions in Los Angeles.  In a related story, more than two dozen workers laid off  from a Walmart distribution center in Mira Loma in March say they were canned after organizing for better working conditions.
  • Walmart has pretty much blown off accusations that Mexican guest workers at a Walmart seafood supplier in Louisiana have been subjected to forced labor, but the workers continue to press their cause.

Around the country tens of thousands of Walmart workers have been organizing through OUR Walmart to change the company. The question remains, however, whether Jim Breyer or any of those in the upper echelons of management will have the vision to see what is going on and do something about it.

What do you think?