CATOOSA, Okla. (AP) -- Retail giant Wal-Mart, America's largest importer, could be indirectly aiding terrorism by lobbying against fully scanning containers of goods that enter the country's ports, critics suggested Thursday.
Gathering at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, where companies send and receive more than 2.2 million tons of cargo a year, labor union members said the Bentonville, Ark.-based company was putting profits before U.S. security because it opposes strengthening port safety.
The news conference is part of a national campaign by WakeUpWalMart.com, a union-funded group critical of the retailer, urging it to drop opposition to a bill that would tighten port security. The campaign has picked up support in recent weeks from at least nine senators, including Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Ads critical of Wal-Mart began airing late last month on television and the Internet.
"It's not just about making a dollar, it's about protecting the lives of Americans," said Billy Brown, with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
A Wal-Mart spokesman called the accusations "irresponsible" and politically motivated.
At issue is a provision in a homeland security bill requiring foreign ports to scan all U.S.-bound cargo containers for nuclear or radiological contraband within five years.
After the Sept. 11 terror attacks, lawmakers and several constituency groups have lobbied the federal government to step up inspection of port containers.
WakeUpWalMart said since the U.S. only inspects about 5% of port containers coming into the country, it would be possible for terrorists to slip a nuclear weapon inside one in transit and detonate it in an American city.
"It does seem to me they're more concerned about profits than they are American lives," Brown said.
Port security broke up the news conference about 10 minutes in because a guard said the group did not have the proper permit. The port is one of the largest and farthest inland in the country.
Wal-Mart and The Retail Industry Leaders Association have said the homeland security proposal is not technologically feasible and would snarl the flow of imports for U.S. consumers.
In a statement, Wal-Mart spokesman Robert L. Traynham said the "union funded ad is in poor taste and an irresponsible attempt to avoid the facts, play upon people's fears and disparage our company and its 1.8 million associates worldwide."
"Wal-Mart is proud of our efforts to ensure a more secure supply chain and we will continue to play a central role in defining real solutions to enhance cargo security," Traynham said.