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Andrew Young to head group defending Wal-Mart

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WASHINGTON — Andrew Young, a former Atlanta mayor and United Nations ambassador, will become chairman of a group that defends Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Working Families for Wal-Mart, a nationwide organization backed by the retail giant, will announce today that Young will serve as chairman of the 16-member steering committee, group spokesman Kevin Sheridan said Sunday.

He will be a highly credible and well-respected public face for Working Families, Sheridan said.

Wal-Mart formed the group in December to respond to growing criticism from two organizations supported by unions. Wal-Mart Watch and WakeUpWalmart have been leading grassroots campaigns to push Wal-Mart to increase wages and benefits.

To counter those efforts, Wal-Mart funded the launch of Working Families. Sheridan said that as the group grows larger it plans to raise additional funds from other employers and supporters.

Sheridan said the group will have a much higher profile once Young, an ordained minister, begins serving as the primary spokesman, giving interviews and writing opinion pieces to defend Wal-Mart.

"I like to fight poverty," Young said in an interview Sunday. "For almost 10 years, I've been using in my sermons the message that fighting poverty is good business, and I've used Wal-Mart as an example. The question is how do you fight poverty with high wages or low prices? The answer is both."

The company has told him that a family can save $2,300 a year by shopping at Wal-Mart.

"Sam Walton (the company's founder) really created a model that allowed any American to have middle-class luxuries at a low cost," Young said.

Young, who served three terms as a U.S. congressman, now heads Atlanta-based GoodWorks International, a consulting group that provides strategic services to corporations and governments operating in the global economy.

Sheridan said Young would not get a salary from the group, but added that GoodWorks has gotten a consulting contract from Working Families for Wal-Mart. The value of the contract was not disclosed.

Young also is chairman of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as being dedicated to progressive public policy for social and economic fairness. It was founded by Harry Wachtel, lawyer and adviser to the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Last March, Drum Major Institute's "Marketplace of Ideas" roundtable, which took place at the Harvard Club in New York, featured Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern.

Sterns union is the primary backer of Wal-Mart Watch.

In the past year, Wal-Mart has come under increasing criticism for its spending on health care and attempts to build stores in some crowded, urban areas.

The company also has been hit with numerous class-action lawsuits over its pay and promotion practices.

Wal-Mart defenders say the company creates jobs, holds down consumer costs and provides health insurance for hundreds of thousands of workers.

Wal-Mart, with 1.3 million workers, is the nations largest private employer.

Working Families for Wal-Mart does not have an official headquarters, but Sheridan is based in the Washington office of Edelman, a public relations firm hired by Families for Wal-Mart.

He said that with Young serving as chairman, Atlanta will start to become the center of gravity. He noted the steering committee includes two other Georgians, filmmaker Ron Galloway and the Rev. Barbara King.

Contributing: Maria Saporta, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

E-mail: mgeewax@coxnews.com