Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wal-Mart vs. New York City

By: JOE FEDELE
www.ufcw1500.org

Wal-Mart vs. New York City

Reading the title of this article you’re probably dreading hearing all of the same statistics and figures on Wal-Mart and their effect on communities. However, this piece focuses on something different, something you’ve all contributed towards, keeping Wal-Mart out of our 5 boroughs. Here is a brief list of the sites you have kept Wal-Mart out of.

Queens: Rego Park

2 Years ago Vornado Realty Trust, a developer proposed shopping complex which would include a 132,000-square-foot Wal-Mart. The developer completed all the necessary filings with the city and the approval process was expected to take seven months. But through a unique joint coalition of union workers, politicians, local community members and religious leaders the community board, the City Planning Commission and the City Council all decided-- to reject it. This was a major victory in keeping Wal-Mart out of our city and the right step forward to preserving our quality jobs.

Staten Island:

After the Rego Park debacle, Wal-Mart’s attention turned to a more isolated borough…Staten Island. Staten Island is our most union dense borough in the city. The plan was immediately opposed by almost every politician from the area. But it was with the tremendous work from the Local 1500 S.T.A.R.T. team that helped get the message out to the residents how bad Wal-Mart is for the community. Whether it was hand billing on Saturday and Sunday mornings at the supermarket, or hand billing every morning at the Staten Island Ferry you all came out and showed how much you care.

Staten Island Part II:

For the third time in 18 months, the nation's largest retailer backed out of a deal to build a store in New York City. Wal-Mart officials quoted that their project on the south shore of Staten Island, which had been in the works since the beginning of 2005, collapsed because of the extensive environmental remediation required at the former industrial site. We take this as a victory, and don’t believe Wal-Mart faced environmental problems, they faced opposition such as a billboard in front of the entrance to the Staten Island Ferry, like all of the S.T.A.R.T. Members who volunteered their time to hand out flyers to Staten Island residents. Wal-Mart was simply frustrated that the public was finally educated, so they decided to withdraw their Staten Island plans…

Legislation:

The Bronx Terminal Market is a retailers dream. Being a great location and easy way to get to and from Manhattan, Wal-Mart continued their push to open a store in the Bronx. The community responded loudly when they developed a ‘Community Board Agreement’. An agreement drafted by community members and local politicians that the developer needed to be signed or the council would not approve the mall. The main point of emphasis in the agreement was strictly No Wal-Mart, a huge win for the community. Community members understood what Wal-Mart would bring to their neighborhood, increased crime and traffic, low wages, higher taxes, and simply bad jobs. Community members were not seduced by the appeal of low prices and number of jobs a Wal-Mart would bring, they analyzed that if an employer is going to come to the community they had better bring good jobs and quality wages.


Brooklyn: The Fulton Street Mall

Wal-Mart’s attention stayed within the 5 boroughs as the company tried to enter the Fulton Street Mall in Brooklyn. The Fulton Street Mall is a place where not only many families work, but own stores. Supporting local retailers and your community is something Wal-Mart consistently disregards and Brooklyn did not stand for it. The community along with the business owners of the Fulton Street Mall instantaneously came together to show their disapproval of the project. As one storefront owner said “People come here on tour buses when they want to see what real New York is like…Our people are crazy about bling. They aren’t crazy about Wal-Mart”. Wal-Mart and Brooklyn simply do not fit, Brooklyn has a history of being a community place, if Wal-Mart did in fact enter the mall the local retailers would lose up to 50% of their business to Wal-Mart. As the opposition continued to grow the developer listened, the same day of a rally put together by Local 1500 and the S.T.A.R.T. Team the developer released a letter stating Wal-Mart would not be a tenant of Albee Square.


Staying a step ahead

On August 1st 2006 Local 1500, community and religious leaders held a Town Hall meeting in the Bronx regarding Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart had not formally announced its plans to enter the borough but the community felt an obligation to educate the public on the negative effects Wal-Mart would bring…The town hall brought significant media attention specifically by the New York Times, which wrote

“The coalition forming in the Bronx includes members of Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union and community groups like the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition….The coalition’s members believe that Wal-Mart represents capitalism run amok, reaping billions of dollars in profits while snuffing out smaller family-owned businesses and offering workers low-wage nonunion jobs. “The Bronx needs jobs,” said Patrick Purcell, director of organizing for Local 1500 and coordinator of Wal-Mart Free NYC, which was formed in response to Wal-Mart’s attempts to open a store in Rego Park. “Just because the Bronx is trying to develop itself economically does not mean that it needs any job. It needs good jobs. It needs responsible employers.”

We’re trying to educate communities in low-income areas, places that Wal-Mart specifically targets as vulnerable, they’ll tell us they’re bringing 200 jobs to the community, but what else are they bringing? Do they tell us about the low wages? Do they tell us they’re not going to provide Health Care for their employees? Do they tell us about the tax increase we’ll be forced to pay because of their failure to provide decent benefits? It’s more than cheap underwear; it’s an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed before it starts. That’s why we held a Town Hall meeting in the Bronx, to continue to educate communities that when Wal-Mart enters your town you’re getting a lot more than cheap underwear.

(Pat this part underneath this was my intro, I then moved it to a body paragraph I thought it would fit better after we went through all the times we kept them out, its more of a part telling why we want to keep them out of the neighborhoods, so we can put it up to or simply leave it on the bottom)

So what exactly is the trend in being anti Wal-Mart? Many friends of mind ask me “Why shouldn’t I shop at Wal-Mart?”, or “I’m saving money so what’s the big deal?” We can all understand why people ask why we shouldn’t shop at Wal-Mart, the first time I saw a Wal-Mart advertisement everything looked too good to be true, seeing this little yellow smiley face cutting prices left and right I said “How is this even possible?” We quickly learned though that things were too good to be true. Constantly Wal-Mart is searching for low-income areas to open new stores by promising low priced goods and hundreds of “jobs”. I say “jobs” because this isn’t a real job, there is no reward in working at the world’s largest (and most profitable) employer. What Wal-Mart doesn’t tell you their average hourly wage is $8.23 an hour, which falls below basic living wage standards and even below poverty lines. Wal-Mart doesn’t tell you that their health insurance only covers 48% of their 1.3 million US employees, which brings higher taxes to our communities. Recently a study done by the staff of the United States House Committee on Education and Work force shows that because of their low wages, Wal-Mart costs federal taxpayers up to 2.5 billion dollars a year in the form of federal assistance programs. In 2005 Wal-Mart’s cost New York State was $61,497,167. This is simply due to the world’s largest employer’s refusal to provide a living wage and health care to their employees.

The biggest problem with Wal-Mart is their lack of respect for their employees and the communities they reside in. Currently Wal-Mart is involved in the largest class action suit in United States history, Dukes v Wal-Mart. The case began in 2001 when six women sued Wal-Mart in California claiming the company discriminated against women by systematically denying them promotions and paying them less than their male counterparts. Now the suit has expanded to include more than 1.7 million current and former female employees and has been certified as the largest class action lawsuit ever. The lawsuit has shed light on systematic discrimination women receive while working at Wal-Mart. Women make up more than 72% of Wal-Mart employees, though they hold one-third of the management jobs. Men hold 90 percent of Wal-Mart’s store manager positions and only one woman is among the Wal-Mart 20 top officers. In 2001, even for the same job classifications, women earned from 5 to 15 percent less than men.

Now ask yourself, would you want this company in your neighborhood? Would you not feel guilty shopping and spending your hard earned dollars at Wal-Mart when you see where their money is going towards? What town or community would want such a dreadful company? What happened to the respect of the working class? What has happened to our selfish society whose only care seems to be saving $2.00 on some underwear. I ask of the shoppers and employees of Wal-Mart when is it enough? It’s been enough for all of us who have worked on campaigns to keep Wal-Mart out of our 5 boroughs. We haven’t sold out our beliefs for cheap underwear. We’ve all stood strong in solidarity and told Wal-Mart, if they want to come to our city they have to change. Here is a brief synopsis of some of the times you have all worked to keep Wal-Mart out of the New York City, the only major city in the United States without a Wal-Mart.

It is now our responsibility, not even as union card holders, but as decent human beings, to spread the word on how this company essentially represents everything that is wrong with corporate America. We have a moral obligation to tell our neighbors that you’re better than that, and not to sell out your moral beliefs for a couple of measly dollars off the new SAW III DVD. It is up to you, if you want Wal-Mart to continue their nauseating business ethics continue to buy cheap underwear there. But if you feel like they are mistreating their workers and not giving enough back to the community which they profit off of, you hold the power boycott the stores. Don’t be sold on their cheap gimmicks and nice smiley faces, look what’s behind the face, a company which provides no respect to the workers or the communities they make money in. Union members and residents of the five boroughs have spoken out, today New York City remains one of the only major cities without a Wal-Mart. We haven’t sold out for cheap underwear and the illusion of 200 “good jobs”. We’ve all learned that they aren’t good for our communities, and that we’d rather have quality than quantity. For this you all deserve to be thanked. Thank you for standing up for the rights of the working class. Thank you for shutting the door on this company who will only bring empty promises and immoral working conditions. New York, you’ve shown a backbone in the fight against Wal-Mart, this is an amazing accomplishment and living proof of what we can accomplish when we come together. We now take the next steps together in bringing responsible employers to our communities, employers who respect the rights of working class people and who will pay us a living wage with health care. We’ve kept Wal-Mart out of our 5 boroughs, let’s now bring in responsible employers who will not only help us, but help our communities.

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