Walmart campaign moves forward
By Mike Andrew
The Making Change at Walmart campaign took another step forward at a June 22 conference at the Machinist’s Hall.
OURWalmart (Organization United for Respect at Walmart), the Walmart employees’ organization, and UFCW 21 invited their community partners – including PSARA – to discuss the future course of the campaign in the Puget Sound area.
According to presentations at the conference, the greater Seattle area has definitely been slated for Walmart expansion.
The Promenade at 23rdand Jackson, Belltown, and Capitol Hill in Seattle, and a location in Skyway have all been identified as possible sites for new stores.
In addition to looking for new locations, Walmart has adopted a new expansion strategy, according to UFCW researchers.
Their “new profile” stores are now a modest 35 thousand to 65 thousand square feet, instead of the monster “big box” stores of the past, and urban core locations are now being targeted instead of suburban or rural strip mall locations.
In addition to the money Walmart customarily spends on advertising its stores, the corporation has invested huge sums in donations to local candidates, hoping to ease their entry into target markets. They have also donated heavily to non-profits in hopes of improving their corporate image.
The result has been to capture a growing market share in targeted cities. In Denver, for example, Walmart has taken an astounding 20% market share in groceries.
The result of Walmart’s entry into one of their target markets is that union stores are driven out or forced to cut wages and benefits to compete. Researchers estimate that the net wage loss from a single Walmart store might amount to $17 million.
Not only does that mean a significant loss in pay for retail workers – who could be paid as much as $3-$4 per hour less than in a unionized store – but it also means that workers have fewer dollars to spend in the surrounding community, so neighboring businesses suffer as well.
A Walmart expansion into Seattle could cost a $15 million loss in labor income, and a $13 million loss in economic output, according to Puget Sound SAGE.
As OUR Walmart members revealed at the conference, Walmart management does not use their profits to improve working conditions. In fact, they said, they regularly have to contend with broken equipment and unsafe conditions.
The strategy for dealing with the challenge of Walmart’s new expansion strategy must be two-fold, the conference determined.
On one hand, to support Walmart workers in their demands to make a living wage and be treated with respect on the job.
On the other hand, to demand that Walmart be a good neighbor in communities where in establishes its store. That includes signing community benefit agreements to guarantee that Walmart will help strengthen – instead of undermining – local economies.
According to OURWalmart members, some 400 Walmart stores now have employees participating in the organization. While many employees are still afraid of management, they said, an increasing number are taking a stand for their rights as workers, and they believe this number will only increase with community support.
The organizations attending the June 22 meeting determined to be part of an ongoing community coalition to ensure that Walmart becomes a good employer and a good neighbor.