Illustration by Jim Cooke

Tens of thousands of workers at America’s third-largest hardware chain are trained in more than customer service. They are trained in the conservative trickle-down economic zealotry that animates their billionaire boss.

Menards is the largest privately owned home improvement chain in America. Its owner is John Menard, Jr., famous for keeping “a tight rein” on the smallest details of his company’s operations. His net worth of more than $10 billion makes him the richest man in Wisconsin, and one of the 50 richest people in America.

Menard, Jr. holds strong right-wing political beliefs. He donated $1.5 million to a group backing Wisconsin’s Republican governor Scott Walker, during Walker’s contentious battles against the state’s organized labor forces. After Menard was forced to pay a $1.7 million fine in the 1990s for illegal dumping of hazardous waste, one state official says Menard told him he “just didn’t believe in environmental regulations.” More recently, a Menards spokesperson announced that the company did not plan to open a new store until Obama was no longer president.

No one suffers the brunt of John Menard, Jr.’s conservative beliefs more directly than his own employees. Menards’ virulently anti-union policies stand out even in an industry full of anti-union corporations. The company was recently sanctioned by the National Labor Relations Board for violating labor laws after it was revealed that the company had required managers to sign contracts stating that they would forfeit more than half of their pay if employees formed a union on their watch.

But Menards is not satisfied with merely having a non-union work force. Documents provided to us by a Menards employee show that the company conducts what can only be describe a systematic indoctrination into conservative political beliefs, under the guise of its “In-Home Training Program” (IHT).

The IHT is an online training course for Menards employees. It is supposed to be a sort of continuing job education program that expands and updates the skills of Menards workers—by training them to work in different departments throughout the store, for example. The program is not mandatory, but participation in it is strongly encouraged by the company. Menards closely tracks how many employees are using the program, and incentivizes employees and managers to keep that number high. Employees are offered small rewards for completing sections, and there are even competitions between stores to see who can get the highest participation level. Below is a screenshot from a company newsletter that went out in April, the entire purpose of which is to share how many employees are using the IHT in each store and region, and to encourage more of them to do so.

What makes Menards’ employee training program unique: It is not at all limited to job skills. In fact, it includes multiple sections dedicated to extolling the virtues of free market capitalism, bemoaning taxes, and instructing employees on how to become advocates of political beliefs that mirror those of the boss who will not allow them to unionize.

Embedded below are four separate courses from the “Civics 101" section of the Menards IHT. The first two sections, “Introduction to American Civics” and “Modern US Politics,” are a combined 122 pages of the sort of American history that appears in outdated textbooks in our nation’s more neglected middle schools. The official Menards version of U.S. history dwells on the Revolutionary War; includes the full text of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and George Washington’s farewell address; gives exhaustive details of how each branch of government works and what federalism is; and even has the trusty old “How a bill becomes a law” flowchart.

It is in course three, “American Job Security,” where Menards’ right wing beliefs really begin to shine. It begins with a cartoonish fearmongering chart about our national debt, in which the low-debt “Path to Prosperity” is in a welcoming green hue, while the cliff-like “Current Path” is in a foreboding red. The very first paragraph lets workers know that if they have any employment problems, they should blame not John Menard, Jr., but the federal government:

What affect does Washington have on job security? In truth, everything. Unemployment numbers can be tied to economic policies. These policies are the rules and regulations that we covered in the previous course. These policies often make it more difficult for business to create jobs and force an increase in unemployment or underemployment. Therefore job security - your personal security for your Self Governing Will of independence and to ‘make your way’ in the world - is inevitably tied to American civil policy.

Having established that regulation is the enemy, the course launches into a primer on Adam Smith and then an extended lionization of Andrew Jackson, who—despite his imperialist massacres of native Americans to steal their land—was “loved by the common people,” especially when he paid off our national debt.

The material continues to pound away at the free market gospel for page after page. “A government dedicated to individual liberties is one that understands that private property is to be protected, not taken or taxed,” it says. “Government does have a role to play, but we must remember that taxes always limit freedom.” This is all presented as fact:

The material takes a detour to pillory cap-and-trade rules for limiting air pollution and bailouts of private companies, and then reprints in full an essay by Herman Cain entitled “Economics & the Basis of Prosperity.” Later, there are a series of the sort of charts that are used to celebrate trickle-down economics, with titles including “Tax Cuts Attract Capital,” “Bottom 95 Percent Pays Less Than the Top 1 Percent,” “High Corporate Taxes Make the US Uncompetitive,” and, best of all, “Rich Pay More Than Their Fair Share.”

In case it isn’t clear:

The last of these four training courses, “Action,” instructs employees on how to contact elected representatives and write letters to newspapers to spread the free market gospel they have just absorbed.

Not to generalize, but this seems like the sort of content more suited to a multi-billionaire business owner than to his working class employees. We asked Menards for comment on these sections of the IHT, and what involvement John Menard, Jr. may have had with them. They have not replied, but we will update this story if they do.

If even half of Menards employees participate in the IHT program, that is more than 20,000 workers who are being rather forcefully fed right wing economic doctrines by their billionaire employer. At the end of the fourth course, the document drives home the need for (business-friendly) individualism: “As a citizen of the United States of America, you should personify your own self governing will and protect your opportunity for free enterprise by educating yourself of the topics (past, current, and future), and then making your voice and vote heard.”

As long as your voice is not asking for a union.

Menards Employee Training Documents