February 28, 2005

No WM in Rego Park

Newsday notes that WM will not be going to Rego Park. Costco, Target, and small businesses start popping corks, and will continue to exploit their workers and extort their consumers:

At the Queens site, however, landlord Vornado Realty didn't have the stomach to take on unions, competing merchants and some city council members. Vornado's decision to replace Wal-Mart at the planned, multi-use complex momentarily lets the city off the hook for making some tough choices: Should low-wage, anti-union businesses be prohibited as a matter of public policy? No. Should city officials do an exhaustive study of Wal-Mart's potential impact on the city, which is so very different from any other place it does business? Yes, as soon as possible. Otherwise, rhetoric overtakes reason at the expense of rational public policy.
Ah, yes, a study!!! That will solve things just like it did in Inglewood, no???--where one economic impact statement insisted that the net number of jobs would increase and another that it would decrease. Great solution. The only useful study is a national, detailed, empirical study of what has actually happened after WM has opened up in randomly-selected places nationally. Almost all "potential impact" studies are based on arbitrary non-validated models chosen by the investigative team to meet a pre-determined goal.

Anyway, the New York Post prints readers' reactions. The last is the most amusing:

I'm glad to see that taxpayer funding of campaigns in New York has stopped the special interests in their tracks.
The rest are snarky too--both pro and con.

The City Journal praises politicians for saving us from prosperity:

New York�s pols are doing a victory dance over saving the city, at the eleventh hour, from getting a powerful boost in retail jobs and sales-tax receipts, by pressuring a developer, Vornado Realty Trust, to drop Wal-Mart from its proposed Rego Park, Queens development. In the eyes of the pols, stopping Wal-Mart was supposed to be a victory for small stores in Queens and for the city�s working people who, the Solons claim, were about to be exploited by the big, bad retailer.

But the real victor was Nassau Country, which like other suburban locales has benefited hugely over the years from the city�s efforts to keep out big-box stores�an effort that started long before Wal-Mart came on the scene.

Given statistically identical aggregate incomes, Nassau has twice the retail sales as Queens.

9News gets a councilwoman to speak gibberish:

Councilwoman Melinda Katz, head of the City Council Land Use Committee, said she received a call on Wednesday from Vornado's attorney that it had made the decision Tuesday night, and that it is looking for other tenants.

Katz said the deal may have fallen through because of Wal-Mart's track record on labor issues.

"Vornado may very well have a project that could be a good project in the area, and they wanted to go forward based on the substance as opposed to getting caught up in the issues that Wal-Mart seems to bring to the table," she said.

Huh? You mean, councilwoman, that your government, pressured by unions, would have gotten in the way at every step. Just making things clear.

The AP notes that WM never signed a deal with the developer.

Posted by Kevin at 10:19 AM

Reich on WM

Robert Reich tells us that, as consumers, we should be able to shop anywhere we want, but as citizens the results should bother us. His solution: as business owners, we should be told how much our employees should be paid in wages and benefits. I interpret this to mean that he thinks we need to become Sweden, a.k.a. the land of incredibly expensive consumer goods.

This, in essence, is what Reich recently opined in The New York Times. He writes that WM is bad because we don't use legislation to force it to be good.:

We can blame big corporations, but we're mostly making this bargain with ourselves. The easier it is for us to get great deals, the stronger the downward pressure on wages and benefits. Last year, the real wages of hourly workers, who make up about 80 percent of the work force, actually dropped for the first time in more than a decade; hourly workers' health and pension benefits are in free fall. The easier it is for us to find better professional services, the harder professionals have to hustle to attract and keep clients. The more efficiently we can summon products from anywhere on the globe, the more stress we put on our own communities.
I expect better from Reich; I don't know why. I expect empirical economics--not advocacy dressed up as such.

I get the feeling that Reich is in a restrained crisis mode.

The only way for the workers or citizens in us to trump the consumers in us is through laws and regulations that make our purchases a social choice as well as a personal one. A requirement that companies with more than 50 employees offer their workers affordable health insurance, for example, might increase slightly the price of their goods and services.
Actually, Reich's "social choice" is not my "social choice"; he's pretending that there is only one "social choice"--one good thing we can do with redistribution. I emphatically disagree; in fact, that's just silly.. I believe that my "personal choce" is a "social choice", even if Reich disagrees: I want to spend my own income where I damn well please, and that's NOT in places where I am guaranteed to make the poorest Americans even richer than people in China, Russia, India and the Maldives.

Put another way, insisting that WM's prices are lower than social cost is no more convincing to me than me insisting that WM's prices are much higher than social cost. I can't measure "social cost", and neither can Reich. Even if I could measure something like or near "social cost", I would be measuring the distance from the current economy to my own vision of the just society, which is far more libertarian than Reich's vision. Since the notion of "social cost" is normative and affects every human activity, it can easily be used to justify a set of laws and institions that details how everyone must behave.

Also, Reich seems to know that a "small" price increase will be the effect of unwritten but almost certainly vague legislation on the operations of a complex retail sector. Just how did he get this info??? Certainly not economic theory, which makes no quantitative prediction.

Reich knows that tax legislation made specific benefits not subject to income taxation if employers provided them; since WWII, this above all else, has created the expectation by employees that their employers pay for health insurance. However, there is little reason to expect employers to be experts in the purchase of health care, and the only way for employers to control or restrict the costs imposed by their employees on the insurance companies is to share those costs with the employees. I'd like to know why doesn't Reich discuss further tinkering with an already interventionist tax code. Without using subsidies and pretending, the only way to lower insurance prices is to lower healthcare costs, and the only ways to lower costs are productivity enhancements and smarter healthcare usage. People must be made to bear more of the costs of their decisions; even if Reich thinks this unfair, he has little alternative... Why not adjust the tax code to fully separate employment from healthcare provision by incentivizing individual purchase and control over healthcare plans?

I'd like the government to offer wage insurance to ease the pain of sudden losses of pay. And I'd support labor standards that make trade agreements a bit more fair.
I'd like that "offer" of wage insurance to come from a nonprofit corporation, with rates that make the organization solvent; and I insist that having such insurance be completely voluntary. However, I think that Reich has a compulsory income transfer in mind, not an insurance program. Also, I'd support "labor standards" only if they are explicitly temporary AND are tied to permanent elimiation of tarriffs. And for Reich to call labor standards "fair" is just nationalistic moral posturing. I don't think workers in China will belive it "fair" if labor standards -- wage and hour controls -- prevent them from moving to the cities from the farms. They will not think it "fair" that workers losing their jobs in the U.S. due to rapid change will still have far better standards of living than them.

And, let's check the data on hourly workers, shall we?

A) Real wages: Down 0.4% in 2004. But if all the pressures Reich claims are so dangerous (though not new), why have real wages increased 9 out of the last 10 years? 9/10 is not a problem, and I think Reich knows this, but cited the data because it can feel scary.

Also, I find it implausible that Reich doesn't know that the BLS does NOT include price decreases due to the proliferation of WM Supercenters, and including them would probably mean real wages are about unchanged.

B) Real health benefits: (These data are from the BLS. You can look them up yourself.)

Series ID : EBUMEDINC00000AP

Title : Percent Of All Workers Participating In Medical Care Benefits
Type : All Private Industry

Year Ann
1999 53
2000 52
2001 No data available for this year.
2002 No data available for this year.
2003 53(D)
2004 53

So we see workers participating at about the same rate over the last 5 years. However, the amount they're paying is really going up:

Series ID : EBUFAMAVE00000AP (A)

Title : Average Employee Contribution For Family Coverage Medical Care Benefits
Type : All Private Industry
Year A : Average monthly premium
1999 169.84
2000 179.75
2001 No data available for this year.
2002 No data available for this year.
2003 228.98
2004 264.59

And more individuals have to kick in a share for their plans:

Series ID : EBUSELFCONTRIBAP

Title : Percent Of All Employees With Medical Care Required To Contribute Toward Cost Of Single Coverage
Type : All Private Industry

Year Ann
1999 67
2000 68
2001 No data available for this year.
2002 No data available for this year.
2003 78
2004 76

But is the amount paid by the employer decreasing? Uh, no. Here are the Q4 to Q4 percent changes in the healthcare benefit cost per hour for private industry

Year Yr/Yr Q4
2000 8.5
2001 9.2
2002 10.2
2003 10.5
2004 7.3
Bottom line: Healthcare is getting more expensive, insurance prices are rising, and companies are giving compensation increases in the form of paying for health insurance, which is not income taxable.

See also the Eclectic Econoclast's comments:

How do our purchases from Wal-Mart become choices that necessarily lead to gubmnt intervention? Why is there some need to "trump the consumers in us ... through laws and regulations...?"

Posted by Kevin at 10:08 AM

February 26, 2005

H. Lee Scott's Recent Speech

He's getting better and better, folks:

Wal-Mart has dramatically upgraded the nature of retail work in America.

Here�s why. The fallacy of the critics is to argue as if Wal-Mart�s growth has somehow come at the expense of better-paying jobs elsewhere in the economy. The truth is that retailing as a sector has consistently accounted for about one of every seven jobs in the U.S. for the last 30 years.

Wal-Mart�s growth (as with the growth of other larger retailers) has basically come within this overall retail pie. And the increasing share of retail jobs supplied by larger, more professional and growing companies such as Wal-Mart has meant (1) more stable employment, (2) unprecedented opportunities for training and career advancement, and (3) the kind of health care, retirement and other benefits that small, financially struggling retailers could never afford to offer.

I think his direct attack on the UFCW is effective. This speech is much better than his recent TV appearances.

And don't miss this one:

When our critics cry, �a company with $10 billion in profits can do better,� it sure sounds like we should. But with sales of $285 billion last year, Wal-Mart earned a return of 3.6 percent � as compared to 8.5 percent for Exxon-Mobil. Seen another way, retailing�s more labor-intensive business model means that in 2004 Wal-Mart earned roughly $6,000 in profit per associate; Microsoft, by contrast, earned $143,000 per associate. For General Motors, the number was almost $12,000.
I think a lot of people will agree that he's demolishing WM opponents' arguments.

Posted by Kevin at 11:47 AM

February 25, 2005

WM in Canada

Via the Eclectic Econoclast, and the Emirates Economist, we find a new Economist article ($$$$) about Wal-Mart in Canada:

WHEN Wal-Mart moved into Canada just over a decade ago, the American retailing behemoth arrived with a splash, buying 122 stores of Woolco, a foundering chain. It turned down the chance to buy ten further Woolco outlets, including what was reputedly the most profitable of them all, because their workers belonged to a labour union
The rest of the story requires a subscription. I'll report on the rest when my library gets the electronic edition...

Posted by Kevin at 3:12 PM

Details about Loveland Supercenter

The NLRB's decision containing almost incredible detail (MSWord) about the Loveland Supercenter is available on the website of Raymond Hogler, a Prof. of Management at the College of Business of Colorado State U....

Want to know about wages?:

Entry-level hourly wages for employees in Store 953 range from $7.00 (front end employees) to $11.25 (pharmacy/prescriptions). Maximum hourly wages range from $7.80 (domestic goods) to $21.43 (back office employees). The wage ranges for Department 10, automotive sales associates and night stockers, are from $7.80 to $9.56. Anita Evans� rate is $11.20 per hour. The wage ranges for Department 37, TLE service, are from $8.20 to $11.55.
(if it disappears from the web, I have a copy)

Basically, we find out that the decision of appropriate bargaining unit is almost entirely subjective.

Posted by Kevin at 11:32 AM

Loveland, CO Vote

UPDATE: Rejected 17-1 boasts press release!

In an election held today at the Loveland, Colorado store, 18 associates who work in the Tire and Lube Express department cast their votes in a democratic, secret-ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board....

Today's vote in Loveland resulted in 17 votes for the associates and Wal-Mart and only 1 vote for the UFCW. Over the last 2 weeks, 34 Tire and Lube Express associates have voted to reject the union.

It's rather clear who was the yes vote. Reuters recaps only the basics.

The UFCW responds:

United Food and Commercial Workers spokesman Dave Minshall said the group will ask the National Labor Relations Board to throw the results out, saying no union member was allowed to observe the election and Wal-Mart added employees to the unit to dilute the strength of the union supporters.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spokeswoman Christi Gallagher said the union was offered an opportunity to provide a substitute observer but could not find one. She said any workers added to the operation were a response to business needs and not part of an anti-union effort.

Minshall said workers had been subjected to intimidation and harassment before the vote. Josh Noble, a tire shop worker who said he voted in favor of the UFCW, said he had been harassed by other Wal-Mart employees and that managers "kind of blew it off" when he reported one incident.

"It's fear that won this election for Wal-Mart," Minshall said.

Earlier... Here's how Big Media prepared for today's vote to unionize WM's Loveland, CO Supercenter Tire & Lube employees. CNN/Money reports it quick and dirty:

Workers at the Loveland, Colo., Wal-Mart Tire & Lube Express are expected to vote Friday on representation by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in an ongoing battle to unionize.

The department's 20 employees won approval from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in January to hold the election, which could make the workers at the Loveland store the first union workers at the world's biggest retailer.

However, the WaPo takes one person's views as a "cross section" of consumer sentiment:

A cross-section of customers suggested that they could tolerate whatever price increases might follow from unionization.

"I come here really for the selection, not the prices," said Paula Emly of Windsor, Colo., who bought two bedspreads Thursday. "A place that has this many employees, I mean, there ought to be a union here. I don't think it would raise prices much."

Astonishing. As if her belief about price effects of unionization is any more informed than mine or yours...


The Denver Post gives us a profile of Joshua Noble, and some very relevant details about the composition of the 20 voters:

In Loveland, nine of the department's 17 workers in November signed cards calling for a union vote. Since then, two have left to attend college and a third was fired. As many as six new workers were brought in, Noble and the union said.

Those workers could skew the vote in favor of the retail giant, which has historically fought unionization efforts. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman would not confirm the changes.

Mr. Noble explains that his unfortunate medical condition takes much of his income, and has taken him away from work:
Noble hasn't been at work since late January. A seizure disorder has kept him out on medical leave. He expects to return to work March 6. Late last year, Noble missed time from work after being in a car accident.

Noble's medical issues have also motivated him to lead the charge for unionization.

He moved back in with his parents so he could catch up on his medical bills. His health insurance and medications eat up a big chunk of his take-home pay, prompting his belief that the company should improve its wages and benefits.

And the Times-Call group discusses the recent rally attended by ~200 in support of the union:

Nearly 200 people marched Wednesday evening to the Loveland Wal-Mart Supercenter, chanting: �Together! Together! We�re all in this together!� and �What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!�
No, you want money. That's fine, but these slogans are so tiring. Mr. Noble's description of the anti-union folks that descended on Loveland is colorful but probably more or less accurate:
However, Wal-Mart executives are doing all they can to sway the vote, he said. Wal-Mart officials from Bentonville, Ark. � what Noble refers to as the Wal-Mart �anti-union SWAT team� � visit the store four days a week to �brainwash� employees against unions, he said.
I'd like to see their brainwashing videos.

Posted by Kevin at 11:07 AM

February 24, 2005

$7.5 Million for Discrimination Against Disabled Man

As I am blogging from Long Island this week, this story seems appropriate. $5 Million of the total award is punitive damages, which will no doubt be reduced.

The plaintiff, 21-year-old Long Island resident Patrick Brady, suffers from cerebral palsy. According to the plaintiff's attorney Douglas Wigdor, Brady applied for a position in the pharmacy unit of a Wal-Mart store in Centereach, NY. and was hired in the summer of 2002.

But Brady, who worked for just four days before he quit, claimed he was soon reassigned to other responsibilities that included collecting garbage and shopping carts in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

WM's line in this case is rather strong:
"As soon as Mr. Brady expressed dissatisfaction with his position, we transferred him to another position that he requested....

Posted by Kevin at 9:02 PM

February 22, 2005

Why?

Just why would somebody do this?

WASHINGTON COUNTY, MD -The Wal-Mart Super Center on Garland Groh Boulevard was evacuated Monday night, after a man told an employee he was going to blow the place up.
Hagerstown City Police say 72-year-old James Grant of Hagerstown approached a female employee and made the threat twice.
He had no explosives and waited for the police outside.

Posted by Kevin at 8:44 AM

Hillsboro, NH Residents Oppose & Support WM

Joelle Farrell of the Concord Monitor has a neutral assessment of WM's enlistment of residents in a letter-writing campaign. What will city council members do when pro-WM residents clash with anti-WM residents at zoning meetings?

HILLSBORO - Wal-Mart is encouraging local residents to speak up if they want a store in town.

The company sent fliers to nearly 100 Hillsboro and Deering residents who had previously expressed support for the store and asked them to write letters to local newspapers and the Hillsboro Planning Board. The company is asking the town's permission to build a 155,000-square-foot store on West Main Street.

The board has received at least 40 letters in the last three weeks, said Matt Taylor, the town planner, and many letters of support have been published in area newspapers, including the Monitor.

Wal-Mart sent the fliers in response to an opposition group, Hillsborough Citizens for Positive Growth, whose members have made a strong showing at zoning and planning board meetings, hosted a speaker to discuss problems towns may encounter when a Wal-Mart builds and called on the town to keep big-box stores out of Hillsboro by limiting store size to 50,000 square feet.

Maybe, just maybe, anti-WM forces will realize that they are not the only relevant voice of the public.

Posted by Kevin at 8:41 AM

Predicting the Future of Toys R Us

It seems that WM's brick-and-mortar toy competition will not disappear:

The toy business probably will continue under private ownership, he said. "I don't think they will liquidate it for the real estate. I think there's too much brand equity in the Toys R Us name," Byrne said.

Toys R Us offers many services that competitors don't, he said. "They can be that resource for mom and dad. They have more to offer than the big boxes," such as Wal-Mart, the No. 1 toy seller, and Target.

Those discounters, he said, focus mainly on hit items. "They really are all about moving merchandise," Byrne said. "There are two very different business models, and there's room for both."

The future of Toys R Us, based in Wayne, N.J., is expected to be a concern at the industry gathering, the American International Toy Fair, under way this week in New York.

Posted by Kevin at 8:35 AM

February 20, 2005

Competing with WM by Moving Closer

This guy's strategy worked for a while, at least:

After Wal-Mart came to his town, Tom Reed of Reed's Appliances hit on a surprising business strategy: He moved from downtown Lapeer and set up shop across the street from the retail giant.

"I did it for the uptick in traffic," Reed said. "And I wasn't really competing with Wal-Mart because their (electronic) appliances were low-end and mine are high-end."

But Reed didn't anticipate Wal-Mart razing its store and building a supercenter on the same site. Open since November, the Super Wal-Mart has already hurt the electronics part of his business, Reed said.

"Now, they're carrying the same equipment I do."

So how can a puny David compete with an ever-changing, ever-mightier Goliath?

The rest of the article is superb. Most important is how downtowns are actually changing:
Downtowns aren't necessarily dying, but Wal-Mart and other large retailers are forcing them to transform, said Amy Connolly, director of Howell's Downtown Development Authority.

"Significant categories of businesses are no longer represented downtown: drugstores, small electronics stores, hardware stores and groceries," she said.

Posted by Kevin at 3:11 PM

Wal-Mart and Grand Theft Auto Made Me Do It

Ah, a new equation thrown into the mix: Wal-Mart + Violent Game = $$$ + Get out of Jail Free Card:

A LAWSUIT filed in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, claims that the video game Grand Theft Auto led a teenager to shoot two police officers and a dispatcher to death in 2003, mirroring violent acts depicted in the popular game....

The suit alleges that Devin bought Grand Theft Auto III at the Gamestop in Jasper and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City at the Jasper Wal-Mart when he was under 17....

'What has happened in Alabama is that four companies participated in the training of Devin... to kill three men,' attorney Jack Thompson told The Tuscaloosa News, which reported the suit's filing.

We'll see if jurors will believe this...

Posted by Kevin at 3:09 PM

February 18, 2005

Sacramento Passes Superstore Ordinance

The Sacramento City Council passed an ordinance to regulate supercenters, but Wal-Mart plans to fight back:


Members of the Sacramento City Council said they anticipated a rough night Tuesday when they considered a controversial superstore ordinance. Still, no one was prepared for what they encountered when they walked into their chambers that evening.

Wal-Mart, leading the opposition against the proposal, had a court reporter stationed next to the dais to record every word. Each council member got a letter from the corporation's attorney, warning that the ordinance specifically targets Wal-Mart and "violates numerous federal, state and local laws, and is discriminatory and unfair."

Councilman Rob Fong, an attorney, said the corporation's message was clear.

"Those two things combined would indicate to me that one of the things coming down the pike is some sort of legal challenge," Fong said. "If that happens, it wouldn't surprise me."

The ordinance isn't as restrictive as some other cities have passed; it only covers stores larger than 90,000sf with 20% of floor space dedicated to nontaxable items rather than the typical 5%. Where Wal-Mart may have leg to stand up on is that it exempts membership and bulk stores. This seemingly benefits Costco while discrimanting against Wal-Mart.

The ordinance requires an economic impact study, but what the city is supposed to do with it isn't mentioned. As an example, I did find an economic impact report done for Bozeman, MT.

Perhaps a more important item in the story than the ordinance is this:


When Bakersfield approved two Supercenter sites within four miles of each other, a citizens group sued the city for underestimating what the group characterized as the urban decay, traffic and air problems that would result.

In that case, the 5th District Court of Appeal recently published a decision that could shape the way California municipalities prepare environmental reports, attorneys said.

"The court ruled that urban decay is an environmental impact as serious as air and water quality," said Steven Herum, the Stockton lawyer representing Bakersfield Citizens for Reasonable Growth.

Herum said he may file a similar lawsuit against the city of Lodi, which approved a Wal-Mart Supercenter on Wednesday.

Bakersfield City Attorney Virginia Gennaro said the court ruling sets a precedent in the 5th District, and city attorneys throughout the state should "give it some weight.

I think its safe to say that this opens up a can of worms. An unoccupied shopping center may be a form of urban decay, but to compare it to water or air quality is a stretch. It merely gives Wal-Mart's opponents another means to block a store. Nobody who can hire a lawyer should be allowed to go out of business because of Wal-Mart lest their building go unoccupied. I should mention that this a result of a specific statute on the books here in CA that requires an environmental impact report which is then used by whatever's proposed to sue. I don't think many things get built in this state without a lawsuit by either side(or at least a threat of one).

Update: The Sacaramento Bee ran a story this morning talking to some Wal_mart supporters and about the project where a store is proposed. It should be noted that Wal-Mart has won public votes in the region.

Posted by Bob at 10:13 PM

12 Weeks "Notice"

Canadian labor law requires 12 weeks notice before firing laying-off retail employees. However, this actually means you can fire employees now as long as you pay them for 12 weeks worth of work:

Wal-Mart has given official notice it intends to lay off workers at its Jonquiere store on May 6...

With more than 100 jobs at stake, the company is required to give at least 12 weeks' notice under Quebec's labour code.

But... the company could lay off the workers sooner if it is willing to pay their wages for 12 weeks after announcing its intentions.

Why would WM do that?

Posted by Kevin at 1:50 PM

Quebec Labor Minister Shifted to Transport

I doubt his replacement will be any less pro-WM-union:

Former Labour Minister Michel Despr�s is now Transportation Minister...

Before politics, Despr�s was operations manger of Groupe gestion Sal Tan Inc., and Director general, Association qu�b�coise de l'industrie de la p�che. He also acted as special adviser, Department of Canadian Heritage.

Most recently as labour minister, Despr�s has been battling a Saguenay Wal-Mart store along with the Quebec Federation of Labour, which has been trying to get a collective agreement for a newly-established union. Wal-Mart Canada announced it will close the store on May 6 because it's not profitable.

Earlier this week Despres ordered that the collective bargaining process continue despite the threatened closure. He [sic] said he would impose an arbitrator who will have the power to impose a contract if Wal-Mart and the union don't agree on one by Feb. 19.

Note however, that Despres recognizes that the government arbitrator does not have the authority to force WM to keep the store open:
In Quebec City, provincial Labour Minister Michel Despres said the collective bargaining process at the Saguenay store will continue despite the threatened closure.

Despres said he will impose an arbitrator if Wal-Mart and the union don't agree on one by Feb. 19. The arbitrator will have the power to impose a contract between Wal-Mart and the union before the store closes.

However, the arbitrator would not have the power to force the Saguenay store to remain open, Despres said.

Andrew Pelletier, a Wal-Mart spokesman, called arbitration a "normal course of action" that would proceed whether the store was open or not.

"We're going to respect the process and that's part of the process," he said in a telephone interview from Toronto. "We've bargained in good faith all along and we've always respected the process.

"The union walked away from the bargaining process, not us," he added, noting that bargaining sessions had been scheduled for a few more months.

Meanwhile the union doesn't like this one bit:
Noel Mallette, a labor-relations professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal, said the union�s strategy is doomed to fail. "Under Quebec law, Wal-Mart has the right to close the store," Mallette said in a telephone interview Monday. "There is nothing illegal in what they did. All the minister can do is put political pressure in Wal-Mart, but he has no legal recourse."

The union also said Monday it plans to file an unfair labor practice complaint to the Labor Minister against Wal-Mart, while asking the Quebec Labor Relations Commission to force the company to prove that the Jonquiere store was unprofitable. Jonquiere is about 290 miles north of Montreal. "How do I know they are profitable? Because the parking lot is full," Fraser said.

OK, so release the profit data, but also release transcipts and documentation for the collective bargaining negotiations. Let us decide. Neither WM nor the unions would dare give up control of their messages.

Posted by Kevin at 1:36 PM

CT Government Inspectors to Visit WM Stores

The state of Connecticut is taking labor law very $eriously:

[S]tate lawmakers are going after the retail giant with legislation.

Montville State Representative Kevin Ryan says lawmakers are looking at increasing fines for labor violations. They also want to add more inspectors to the state Department of Labor to investigate complaints.

The retailer agreed to pay $135,000 last week to settle federal charges that it broke child labor laws in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Arkansas. Lawmakers in Connecticut are critical of the settlement, saying that money is nothing to a corporation like Wal-Mart.

Also today, Governor Rell is calling on state inspectors to visit and inspect Wal-Mart stores in Connecticut to look for other violations.

Do you think they will make a public announcement if they find no other violations?

Posted by Kevin at 1:32 PM

Lodi Council Gives WM Go-ahead

As described here and here, the Lodi, CA city council has been set on requiring WM to rent or demolish its old building before building a supercenter across the street. An agreement was reached that gives WM the option of selling the building too:

The Lodi city council Wednesday night voted unanimously to approve a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter, ending two years of arguments and public meetings.

Councilmembers voted 4-0 to approve an agreement between the City of Lodi and developer Darryl Browman that eases a requirement that Wal-Mart find a new tenant for its existing store before it starts building the supercenter. That condition was amended to include demolition or sale of the building.

Next up are the lawsuits...

Posted by Kevin at 1:25 PM

February 17, 2005

Steelyard Commons

Anita Campbell sends in a link to Callahan's Cleveland Diary, which provides a well assembled sequence of links showing how information was revealed during the planning of the Steelyard Commons. I won't include a snippet, because I don't want to spoil it, and you really need to read the whole thing (it won't take too long!).

Posted by Kevin at 3:15 PM

Levi's Sticking With WM

As noted earlier Levi Strauss is betting on Wal-Mart. In fact, it will focus more on retailers like WM and less on warehouses:

Levi said it cut back its business with discount warehouse clubs as it sought to place its Levi brand products in retail stores as more premium -- and more profitable -- items.

This is part of the company's strategy to close out poor-performing clothing lines and focus on expanding its core Levi products and successful lower-priced Signature brand sold in discounters like Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Posted by Kevin at 3:01 PM

What Was That About the End of WM?

Remember last Thanksgiving's tremendous fuss and worry and glee when WM same-store sales increases were not as high as its own target. Well folks, the profits for Nov 2004 - Jan 2005 were higher than the year before:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. the world's biggest retailer, posted an increase in fourth-quarter profit Thursday that was a little above analysts' expectations.

Wal-Mart (Research) reported earnings of $3.16 billion, or 75 cents per share, for the fourth quarter ended Jan. 31, up from $2.72 billion, or 63 cents per share, a year earlier.

Analysts surveyed by earnings tracker First Call forecast EPS of 74 cents

I told you it was much ado about nothing. Now, I'd be the first to point out that it would be easy to shift costs around to make this quarter look better (and others worse), but I won't just assume that's happened. Give me some evidence.

Posted by Kevin at 6:44 AM

February 15, 2005

Hyping WM as a Buy

Maya Kulycky says stock analysts are ambivalent about WM:

Now, with the company poised on Thursday to report a double-digit increase in sales and per-share earnings for fiscal 2005, some think Wal-Mart's stock is set to climb. So now is a good time to buy, they say...

But others aren't as enthusiastic and point out reasons why investors may not want to jump aboard the Wal-Mart bandwagon. The potential problems include the maturity of the store base in the United States, more involvement in the slower growth grocery industry and sales cannibalization as Wal-Mart opens stores near each other.

Posted by Kevin at 6:18 PM

Greet This

WM is known for attracting and prosecuting criminals. Hopefully they get this one:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Police said a man pointed a gun at a Wal-Mart greeter Tuesday and then fled the scene....

Investigators said the greeter asked the man to show his receipt before leaving. When the man didn't, the greeter followed him and asked him again.

Officials said the man pointed a gun at the greeter and fled the store

Posted by Kevin at 6:14 PM

WM Class Action for 9 Faulty Bicycles

Add another class action to the pile:

A class-action lawsuit was filed Monday against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and a California company for importing defective bicycles that injured at least nine children.
The suit, filed in Marin County Superior Court, alleges that Wal-Mart conspired with San Rafael-based importer Dynacraft Industries and investigator Carl Warren & Co. to cover up the fact that the front wheels of the bicycles can easily detach after hitting a bump, causing serious injuries.

According to the suit, at least nine children sustained injuries ranging from broken teeth to head trauma....

"In each case, they reported it to Wal-Mart, and Wal-Mart continues to sell the product. These bikes are out there still being used by kids who don't know what they are riding."

What's the problem?:
The front wheels of the bicycles can easily detach after hitting a bump.

Posted by Kevin at 6:11 PM

WM Fights Back in Canada

I'm busy, so here's the short, short version. Wal-Mart takes out a full-page ad:

Wal-Mart's ad says the company has found the last few days "very trying" and seeks to reassure its employees they are its "biggest strength."

"Never let anyone or the media tell you otherwise," the statement reads. "You represent the cornerstone of our organization and we believe it is a privilege to have such an exceptional team."

The response is, um, harsh:
A union leader likened Wal-Mart Canada to a wife-beater Monday after the retail giant placed an ad in several Quebec newspapers praising its employees as the backbone of the company.

And joy! The small retailer will once again be able to exploit the consumner:

Quebec�s Economic Development Minister Michel Audet doesn�t seem to be too upset over the closure.

Audet says it will be tough for the former Wal-Mart employees but adds that small and medium-sized businesses in Saguenay will be able to fill the hole left by the American retailer.

Posted by Kevin at 11:36 AM

February 14, 2005

Simon Head in NY Review of Books

Although noted earlier, somehow I forgot to read this review article by Simon Head in The New York Review of Books. I found this article hard to read because it intentionally leaves out important details:

In the only known case of union success at Wal-Mart, in 2000 workers at the meat-cutting department of a Texas Wal-Mart somehow managed to circumvent this corporate FBI, and voted to join the UFCW in an election certified by the National Labor Relations Board. A week later Wal-Mart closed down the meat-cutting department and fired the offending employees, both illegal acts under the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRB ordered Wal-Mart to reopen the department, reemploy the fired workers, and bargain with the union, but Wal-Mart has appealed the NLRB decision and the litigation continues.
Of course, WM also eliminated butchers companywide, which is not illegal under the NLRB. All WM meats are now packaged outside of stores. WM's retaliation was arguably specifically structured (probably with unionization in mind) in such a way that it is entirely compliant with NLRA. Here are some links from both sides 1,2,3)

Also, I have some problems with the closing:

As things stand now, the National Labor Relations Act, the toothless federal law governing the right to organize, allows union-busting corporations like Wal-Mart to break the law with virtual impunity. Since 1995 the US government has issued sixty complaints against Wal-Mart at the National Labor Relations Board, citing the illegal firing of pro-union employees, as well as the unlawful surveillance and intimidation of employees. But under the present law persistent violators of government rules such as Wal-Mart are responsible only for restoring the lost pay of fired workers �in most cases, not more than a few thousand dollars�and these penalties do not increase with successive violations.
This is really convoluted; union busting is not illegal. (Please, before commenting, show me the law that makes what WM actually does illegal). Is Mr. Simon insisting that WM breaks the laws but is not charged? Yes and No. He is insisting that WM breaks laws, is charged, convicted and pays fines that are too small for his idea of positive social change.

Someday, I will have enough time to write essays of this length and competence.

Posted by Kevin at 3:04 PM

February 13, 2005

Bush DOL Gives WM Preferential Treatment?

At Confined Space, Jordan Barab notes that WM has settled a charge of child labor violations and taunts Bush's labor department, writing that it is doling out unique priviliges to WM--it now gets a heads up when being under investigation by the DOL Wage and Hour Division:

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer agreed to pay $135,540 to settle federal charges that it violated child labor laws in Connecticut, Arkansas and New Hampshire. As part of the agreement, revealed yesterday after it was secretly signed in January, the Labor Department agreed "to give Wal-Mart 15 days' notice before the Labor Department investigates any other 'wage and hour' accusations, like failure to pay minimum wage or overtime."
Jordan goes on to quote highly partisan George Miller, who we already know, hates WM's guts. But more importantly, in a different post, Jordan discusses WM's policy of locking in night-shift employees in high-crime areas.

WM should be punished where it violates the law, and this lock-in behavior sounds awful, but I have a problem with making individual cases look like a company-wide pattern of abuse. I'm simply not convinced that, on a per-store basis, WM is any more or less a labor violator than any other retailer.

Posted by Kevin at 1:50 PM

February 12, 2005

17-0 Against a Union for WM, New Castle Tire & Lube

Except in the German and French press, I hadn't seen news stories about the strong union rejection noted by WM in this press release:

BENTONVILLE, Ark., Feb. 11, 2004, -- Wal-Mart associates have once again voted against union representation in a democratic election that took place today in New Castle, Penn. Seventeen associates who work in the Tire and Lube Express department cast their votes in a secret-ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board.

Today's results came more than four years after the UFCW first began its attempts to organize the Tire and Lube associates in the New Castle store. The final vote was 17-0 in favor of Wal-Mart.

"We are please that our associates finally had a chance to vote and send a strong message to the union," said Terry Srsen, vice president of labor relations for Wal-Mart. "In past elections, the UFCW has been rejected over and over by our associates because they do not feel that a third party would add anything to Wal-Mart's culture or environment."

Well, that's really overdoing it. I don't think WM should pretend to know what is going on inside it's employees' heads. However, via Q and O, we find the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noting the union doing the same exact thing:
The UFCW, however, blamed the outcome on Wal-Mart's decision two days earlier to close a newly unionized Canadian store after failing to reach a contract and on turnover at the New Castle outlet. The planned shutdown of the store in Jonquiere, Quebec -- the first unionized Wal-Mart in North America -- is expected to mean the loss of 190 jobs, according to Bloomberg News.
You know, somebody ought to take the 17 voters to lunch and ask them if they were even at Wal-Mart in 2000, when all this started. The UFCW is rather disingenuous in blaming WM solely for the delay.
Wal-Mart forced workers to wait four and a half years for an election in their Tire & Lube Express Department of the Wal-Mart Supercenter in New Castle, Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart�s high turnover rate pushed out the union supporters who began organizing with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 880 in June, 2000, because they felt Wal-Mart ignored their complaints about safety hazards.
Btw, the UFCW needs somebody to write better press releases. Plainly, they currently suck, because no media organization will reprint their caustic sentences.

Posted by Kevin at 2:43 PM

WM Exploring DC, Again

Michael Barbaro of The Washington Post informs us of Wal-Mart's latest move in the nation's capitol:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has hired a former top aide to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) as a consultant as it continues to explore the possibility of building a store in the District and attempts to navigate the city's zoning rules and neighborhood politics, the retailer said....

Kelvin J. Robinson, who was the mayor's chief of staff from 2001 to 2004, announced his resignation from the city government last summer...

Retail brokers said Wal-Mart's decision to hire Robinson, who worked closely with the mayor and the council, suggests company leaders remain serious about entering the market. Wal-Mart was close to signing a deal for a store in Brentwood before it determined the site was too small and abandoned the plan in August, according to sources close to those discussions.

It's unclear to me where or when "the retailer" told Mr. Barbaro about this...

Posted by Kevin at 2:28 PM

February 11, 2005

Bomb Threats for Quebec WM's

This is not a peaceful, rational, civilized, acceptable form of protest:

GATINEAU, Que. (CP) - Two Wal-Mart outlets in this city received bomb threats on Friday, forcing employees and customers to leave both stores, police said.

One of the stores later reopened after police conducted a thorough search, said Sgt. Andre Pellerin of Gatineau police. Pellerin said the calls came within about 20 minutes of each other.

The threats came a few days after the U.S. retail giant announced plans to close a unionized Quebec store in Saguenay, where employees were trying to negotiate a first contract.

Posted by Kevin at 6:13 PM

Union Fights Closure of Jonquiere, Quebec WM

Yea, we're gonna have another boycott:

Wal-Mart Canada Corp.'s decision to close its first unionized store could spark a protracted legal battle, a possible national boycott, and the retailer could be forced to re-open the store, the high-powered lawyer for the union says.

Paul Cavalluzzo declined to confirm what direction the United Food and Commercial Workers were likely to take at a press conference scheduled for today. But he said the union has three options in front of it: legal action, an economic boycott and political pressure.

UFCW national director Michael Fraser has already said the union will file an unfair labour practice charge against Wal-Mart with the Quebec Labour Relations Board. And more actions are coming, a source close to the union said yesterday.

A labour board challenge, if successful, could force Wal-Mart to re-open the store or expose it to significant fines, "in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions," said Cavalluzzo, who was lead counsel in the Walkerton water inquiry.

"There's no limit to what the board can order to rectify a violation of the labour law," Cavalluzzo said in a telephone interview late yesterday. The union would first have to prove the company had violated its duty to bargain in good faith, he said.

Also, WM continues to insist that its employees don't need a union.

Posted by Kevin at 6:44 AM

More on WM in Rego Park, Queens

A snippet from Steven Greenhouse's latest:

In all this early skirmishing, one not inconsequential group seems largely forgotten: New York's consumers. Many of them love Wal-Mart's low prices.
Forgotten by whom?

Posted by Kevin at 6:08 AM

February 9, 2005

Quebec Store to Close

The Jonquiere, Quebec store, which was the first to have a union in North America, is going to close:


NEW YORK - Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Wednesday it will close a Canadian store whose workers are on the verge of becoming the first ever to win a union contract from the world's biggest retailer.

Wal-Mart said it was shuttering the store in Jonquiere, Quebec, in response to unreasonable demands from union negotiators, that would make it impossible for the store to sustain its business. The United Food & Commercial Workers Canada last week asked Quebec labor officials to appoint a mediator, saying that negotiations had reached an impasse.

"We were hoping it wouldn't come to this," said Andrew Pelletier, a spokesman for Wal-Mart Canada. "Despite nine days of meetings over three months, we've been unable to reach an agreement with the union that in our view will allow the store to operate efficiently and profitably."

Pelletier said the store will close in May. The retailer had first discussed closing the Jonquiere store last October, saying that the store was losing money.


It's not too surprising as this avoids setting a precedent for other stores in the in North America, although there is another unionized store in Quebec. It seems unlikely the company will change their business model and give in to demands of unions. As the story says, workers left the store crying, something that won't be lost on others.

The demands sounded odd, increase the number of employees and also the number of working hours for a number already there. A Wal-Mart spokesman said " they failed to appreciate the fragility of conditions". It looks more like the issue was not just wages, but how the store was run. If the store really wasn't profitable, management through union contracts doesn't seem likely make it so.

The whole article is in the extension.

NEW YORK - Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Wednesday it will close a Canadian store whose workers are on the verge of becoming the first ever to win a union contract from the world's biggest retailer.

Wal-Mart said it was shuttering the store in Jonquiere, Quebec, in response to unreasonable demands from union negotiators, that would make it impossible for the store to sustain its business. The United Food & Commercial Workers Canada last week asked Quebec labor officials to appoint a mediator, saying that negotiations had reached an impasse.

"We were hoping it wouldn't come to this," said Andrew Pelletier, a spokesman for Wal-Mart Canada. "Despite nine days of meetings over three months, we've been unable to reach an agreement with the union that in our view will allow the store to operate efficiently and profitably."

Pelletier said the store will close in May. The retailer had first discussed closing the Jonquiere store last October, saying that the store was losing money.

A spokesman for the UFCW said Wednesday the union had not yet seen the retailer's statement, and that leaders were traveling and not immediately available for comment.

Some employees at the store said they believed the store was closing because of their agreement to join the union and several cried as they left the store. They told Radio-Canada TV that an announcement had been made and they were not allowed to ask questions.

The store in Jonquiere, about 240 miles northeast of Montreal, became the first unionized Wal-Mart store in North America last September, after the bargaining unit was certified by provincial labor officials. Since then, workers at a second Quebec store have also been granted union status. Neither had reached a contract.

The union efforts at both stores are part of a larger chess game labor organizers are waging with Wal-Mart at stores across Canada. The campaign, financed by UFCW money from both Canada and the United States, is also geared to captured the attention of workers in Wal-Mart's home country.

The closest a U.S. union has ever come to winning a battle with Wal-Mart was in 2000, at a store in Jacksonville, Texas. In that store, 11 workers � all members of the store's meatpacking department � voted to join and be represented by the UFCW.

That effort failed when Wal-Mart eliminated the job of meatcutter companywide, and moved away from in-store meatcutting to stocking only pre-wrapped meat.

Recently, some workers in the tire department of a Wal-Mart store in Colorado have sought union representation, and the National Labor Relations Board has said it intends to schedule a vote.

Wal-Mart spokesman Pelletier said the company was closing in Jonquiere because of unreasonable union demands over scheduling and staffing, and the UFCW's refusal to detail its pay requirements.

The union's demands would have forced the retailer to add 30 people to the existing payroll of 190, and guarantee many workers additional hours, he said.

"In our view, the union demands failed to appreciate the fragile conditions of the store," he said.

Posted by Bob at 8:34 PM

Loveland Union Vote on 2/25

The vote to unionize the Tire and Lube associates at the Loveland WM will most likely be reconfigured somehow, but here's the timeline:


Nov. 16: Nine employees at the Loveland Wal-Mart Tire and Lube Express submit a petition to hold an election to unionize.

Dec. 2: Hearing begins at the National Labor Relations Board office in Denver to determine if the Tire and Lube Express employees can hold a union election.

Dec. 13: Hearing ends after seven days of testimony and evidence from both Wal-Mart and union representatives.

Jan. 28: The labor board in Denver decides to allow Loveland employees to hold a union election.

Feb. 7: The board schedules the election for Feb. 25.

Feb. 11: Wal-Mart�s deadline to appeal the election.

Feb. 25: Election Day for 20 Tire and Lube Express employees at the Loveland Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Posted by Kevin at 12:12 PM

Flagstaff, AZ

Wal-Mart gives $20,000 to a local group fighting an anti-big-box ordinance:

Proponents of the City Council's big-box limitation ordinance that passed in September and is scheduled for a referendum vote in May planned to launch their defense campaign today.

But if bank accounts are any indication, challengers of the law that would essentially forbid a Wal-Mart Supercenter already have the advantage.

According to campaign finance reports filed with the City Clerk's Office, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart has contributed $20,000 to Protect Flagstaff's Future, a political action committee formed to overturn the big-box ordinance. Wal-Mart's contribution comprises the bulk of the committee's reported $20,165 it took in through the Jan. 31 filing deadline.

And there's plenty more where that came from.

"We are going to seek more funding from Wal-Mart as we need it," said Frank Dickens, a local Realtor and chairman of Protect Flagstaff's Future. "It's just going to depend on what we're going to need to do for publicity.

Posted by Kevin at 12:08 PM

TIAA CREF to Pressure WM

The teachers, professors, and researchers pension/investment fund TIAA-CREF is being pressured to push for reform at WM, or to divest from it. As a member of TIAA-CREF, I am STRONGLY opposed to these initiatives:

Pressure Nike and Wal-Mart to end sweatshop abuses worldwide; urge Wal-Mart to stop its destructive impact on local economies and close its Teotihuacan, Mexico store -- or divest from those companies if changes are not made;
In other words, this organization wants to restrict MY investments as well as his own. They can go to hell:
One coalition member is also acting through the shareholders. Citizen's Coalition is submitting a resolution to TIAA-CREF for divestment from Costco and Wal-Mart, before the February 10 deadline.

"Our members have witnessed firsthand the attacks on the environment,
health, labor, and human culture perpetrated by irresponsible corporations,"
says Ballinger.
Others think your views are not only wrong but dangerous...

Posted by Kevin at 12:04 PM

WM Putting Pressure on Mom and Pop Diamond Dealers

Small jewelery stores are not the standard version of mom and pop:

From mine to merchant to customer, the diamond business is changing while it expands like never before--and the Internet is only part of it. Consumers, both men and women, are demanding better stones, often for lower prices, in a wider variety of locations.

Mom-and-pop stores are being squeezed by giant chains like Wal-Mart Stores, now the world's largest jeweler, and Costco, which increasingly sells diamonds over two carats. Department stores, too, are upgrading their jewelry counters. (Jewelry did much better than clothing in many of them over the holidays.)

Posted by Kevin at 11:56 AM

February 6, 2005

WM as Anchor in Shopping Mall

westfield_wm.htm

This USA Today article about incorporating Target and Neimann Marcus into the same mall discussed how Westfield has included a two story Wal-Mart as a shopping mall anchor in Westfield Shoppingtown Parkway in San Diego.

Many retailers were worried about WM devouring their sales, but at least the coffee shop and designer fashion store were happy when WM opened up in the shopping mall:

"Wal-Mart doesn't sell fashion," said Alberto Tawil, owner of The Pink Room, a nearby store that sells clothes for girls ages 4-16. "I don't think they will affect me."

Stores that don't compete with Wal-Mart, such as a nearby coffee shop, said they expect a swell in sales.

The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf saw a $300 bump in sales Sunday driven largely by some of the giant retailer's employees, said Stephanie Jones, a vendor at the shop.

"It's exciting," Jones said.

However, when invading new territory, WM and Target have not been waiting for shopping mall developers; instead they're just putting up free-standing stores nearby:

Despite the increase in non-traditional anchors, big-box stores aren't likely to focus exclusively on malls any time soon, says Bucksbaum. The successful chains select sites on a case-by-case basis. While Wal-Mart is putting a few stores in malls, the discount giant is still mainly building freestanding units. Why? Sometimes it is faster for Wal-Mart to buy its own piece of land instead of waiting for someone to develop a mall, says Bucksbaum.

General Growth Properties tried to attract a Target to a new mall that will open this summer in Des Moines, Iowa, but the discounter decided to build its own unit one intersection away from the shopping center. �They [Target] felt that the stand-alone unit would open more quickly and generate business,� says Bucksbaum.

Posted by Kevin at 10:32 AM

February 5, 2005

Supercenter in Lodi

The company is planning on building a supercenter store in Lodi, California, but a major a stumbling block is the old building which will be across the street from the new store:


As a condition of the permit, the Supercenter's developer would be required to lease at least half of the existing Wal-Mart before the Supercenter can be built.

Now the city wants to rework the building permit to give the Supercenter's developer the option of selling or demolishing the existing store, with the intent that another retailer would reoccupy the property, Lodi leaders say.

A new building would go up if the existing store is razed, Hansen said. "It's not tearing it down and walking away," he said.

Giving developer Darryl Browman more options in the building permit could help ensure the existing property doesn't end up vacant, Hansen added. "My feeling is that we have to see if we can work more closely with the developer in re-tenanting the (current) building. We'll work out the right kind of language."

Browman owns most of the existing Wal-Mart shopping complex and is the developer for the proposed 245,157-square-foot Supercenter at Lower Sacramento Road and Kettleman Lane.

Herum urged the city to make sure Wal-Mart does find a retail tenant for the existing building before the Supercenter opens.

Posted by Bob at 2:02 PM

Wal-Mart Fights Back in Ballston Spa

Folks, this is getting interesting. We've previously noted the heated controversy (with residents forming anti-WM organizations) over the not even "officially" proposed Wal-Mart in Ballston Spa. Now, Wal-Mart is using a telephone "survey" to generate a pro-WM petition.

Stan Hudy, a Ballston Spa resident who is also an employee of The Saratogian, received a phone call Friday evening from someone who identified himself as 'Jason from Wal-Mart.'

The man asked if Hudy was familiar with the project, listed some economic benefits of the company coming to Ballston and asked if Hudy was in favor of the proposal.

When Hudy responded affirmatively, the pollster asked if he would be willing to sign a petition, write a letter or attend a meeting in support of the proposal. Hudy said he would not be in a position to do that as an employee of the newspaper, and the conversation was ended.

The call came from a research company called Western Wats, based in Provo, Utah.

Note that the large-scale use of the telephone survey format for market research is a prime reason for the decreasing response rate to rigorous statistical surveys...

Posted by Kevin at 11:45 AM

Levi Strauss Signature

Here's a puff piece about how Levi's has a 20 support team in Bentonville to service WM's needs.

BENTONVILLE -- "Levi Strauss Signature" proclaims the large sign on the even larger building on Southeast 5th Street in Bentonville. More telling, perhaps, are the words "Wal-Mart Support Team" underneath the title....

"Our whole purpose in being here is to be of service to Wal-Mart," said Kate Morrissey, director of sales for Levi in Bentonville. "We are the customer contact here."

That customer being Wal-Mart of Bentonville -- more specifically, its buyers. Morrissey and her staff meet with them weekly, she said, to sell orders of Levi's Signature jeans, a brand launched in October 2002 for mass retail chains such as Wal-Mart.

Although Levi sells its Signature jeans to other retailers, Wal-Mart was its first customer. The San Francisco-based Levi Strauss & Co. opened its Bentonville office in December 2002 in a 7,000-square-foot building that used to be a furniture warehouse. The only other offices in America that sell Levi's Signature jeans are in Chicago and Minneapolis, according to Morrissey.

Only Wal-Mart is served out of Levi's Bentonville office, which is headed by Ted Fox. Morrissey has been with Levi Strauss for 24 years and transferred to Bentonville from San Francisco. Office manager is Darcy Gay, who has been with the company for two years. She is originally from Little Rock but has worked in California.

"We have a good cross mix of people here," Morrissey said.

She and the rest of the staff deal in sales, operations and replenishment, she said. There is no reception area at the office. Instead, visitors check in by using a special phone set up in the lobby. Beyond glass doors is a large showroom where Levi Signature apparel is displayed on racks and shelves in the same layout as it is in a Wal-Mart store to give buyers a better visual for the products, Morrissey said.

"We're set up in this office similar to how they're set up," she said about Wal-Mart. "It's what I call a cross-functional team."

Note that the signature brand does NOT mean premium quality.

Posted by Kevin at 11:38 AM

Does WM Try to Fool You?

I think this guy was just trying to find something interesting to say about a small music store closing in Ohio.

John Klass, of Zanesville, who has shopped at Threshold for the past 15 years for all his audio equipment, said he is sorry to see the store close. The staff's service and sound product knowledge kept him coming back year after year.

"They don't try to fool you. They don't try to sell you combinations of stuff you don't need," Klass said. "For people who like quality and service, you can't get that at Wal-Mart or Best Buy."

And WM does try to fool you?

Still, it's obvious but notable that excellent customer service is not an insurance policy against WM taking your customers who don't care about service.

Posted by Kevin at 11:31 AM

Newsflash: Spending Money Foolishly is Foolish

I never used to know what to think about poor people who spend themselves deeper into poverty. How can you complain about having no money if you eat out, go to the movies, rent DVDs, and take vacations? But I've realized that most people do not have the same inherent restraint and caution against spending money that I always have, and they don't know how to develop it. People who sell financial advice are actually selling a way of life:

Being penny-wise can reap huge rewards. Just ask Amy Dacyczyn, who lives with her husband and six children in a "to-die-for" house on a seven-acre parcel in a bucolic rural area.

The family could afford their dream home primarily because they were able to maximize savings and limit buying to necessities. These concepts may seem old-fashioned, but they are just as valid now as ever.

"It's important to put your money into things with permanent value -- such as a wonderful home or a fine antique chest -- not into fancy clothes, restaurant meals or DVDs that mean little in the long run," says Dacyczyn, author of "The Complete Tightwad Gazette," a compendium of money-saving tips.

Formerly the publisher of a popular newsletter on frugal living, Dacyczyn insists that your quality of life needn't suffer simply because you've decided to reduce your living costs to buy a first home or a move-up property.

"The price of many things is falling. But people go into a big store like Wal-Mart for a few simple items and they're faced with a multitude of other alluring products," she says.

Still, Dacyczyn insists that consumers must take responsibility for their own actions and not blame retailers or advertisers for letting their spending get out of control.

So much wisdom; will people actually learn to follow this advice?

Posted by Kevin at 11:27 AM

February 4, 2005

Flyfishing Gear

Over at BoomtownUSA, Jack Schultz has some fine observations of a new WM Supercenter in Idaho:

At the entrance to the new store was the Wal-Mart Fly Shop, the first of its kind in the country. No it�s not a new Fear Factor fad shop! They sell equipment and flies for fly fishing. Eastern Idaho has some of the best fly fishing streams in the world, so selling fly fishing products makes a lot of sense.

I asked Jim Evans, whose official title is merchandising supervisor but who sure looked like the general manager, how they happened to get into selling flies. He told me, �The district manager thought that it might make sense here, so they tried it.� Evans is an avid fisherman who told me that the shop is aimed at first time and intermediate fishermen.

Posted by Kevin at 11:22 AM

Explosion at Bodega Aurrera in Mexico City

Will leftist groups start doing this in the U.S.? I sure hope not:

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A small homemade bomb exploded at a Mexico City supermarket owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc early on Friday morning, but it caused no injuries or damage.

The tiny device was detonated in the parking lot of the Bodega Aurrera store owned by Wal-Mart's Mexico unit. Television images showed no damage was done.

Leftist groups occasionally set off small homemade devices in Mexico, usually against economic targets like banks.

Via, get this, Release Americans: Held Hostage by Corrupt Mexi-Regieme.

Posted by Kevin at 11:14 AM

Vacant Wal-Mart Store Split 60-40

There are only so many big-box retailers, so without changing zoning rules, it is sometimes difficult to find a replacement occupant of a vacant store. Enter Tractor Supply Store and Dollar General Market:

According to Tom Lawrence, a corporate spokesperson TSC, the doors of the store will be opening around the end of April. "The official opening will be held in early May," Lawrence stated. The store will employ 12 to 17 employees. TSC will occupy approximately 25,000 sq. ft of the building or about 40 percent....

"The company focuses on lifestyle and the need of ranchers and farmers as well as tradesmen," the spokesperson explained. He noted that they would have fenced areas out front of the store where fencing, sprayers and other such items will be located...

"This is exciting for our county," County Mayor Monty Adams stated. "I think this will be a wonderful addition to our county." The county mayor noted that he looked forward to working with TSC....

While TSC has leased 40 percent of the building the other 60 percent has been leased by Dollar General Market.

Posted by Kevin at 11:08 AM

Wal-Mart Wins Appeal

Wal-Mart has won an appeal in a lawsuit filed by pharmacists concerning overtime pay. In the LA Times:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will get another chance to argue its case that it shouldn't have to pay millions in overtime to pharmacists after winning its appeal.

The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new hearing in the case, saying a federal judge that ruled the company had violated the law by failing to pay overtime acted too quickly and should reconsider the evidence.

Pharmacists said the Bentonville, Ark., retailing giant adjusted their salary and hours so often that they were in fact hourly employees eligible for time-and-a-half for overtime.

Wal-Mart lawyers argued that the trial judge should have heard evidence about Department of Labor rulings that salaried employees' pay could be adjusted if economic conditions warrant.

Posted by Bob at 2:20 AM

February 3, 2005

A Wal-Mart Price Index

Unfortunately, this post is just speculative, but I think it would be marvelous if Wal-Mart published a price index for categories of goods and services sold in its stores--from box cereal to pickles to apples to t-shirts and tires and oil changes. I'm NOT insisting that WM must publish data as a matter of government requirement; these types of onoerous requirements give government a bad name. Nor am I asking that WM publish an endless list of prices; the world is already awash in misunderstood and flashily published data.

Instead, I think a Wal-Mart price index would be extremely important information to convey to researchers, shoppers, and opponents. It would be wonderful to compare price changes inside of Wal-Mart to other retailers and to the consumer price index. How much do Wal-Mart's productivity enhancements lower the rate of price increases inside the store versus nationwide? Are you getting the benefit of Wal-Mart's productivity (through the pressures of competition) if you shop elsewhere?

Also, one can be far more assured about the accuracy of the data from Wal-Mart's databases than from the sampling procedures employed by the BLS. Granted, this would not measure economy-wide price changes, but it would measure very accurately a large chunk of very important sales.

Perhaps a corporate-university partnership can be put into place in which researchers are granted unfettered access to the data over long-time periods, and are permitted to publish a specific index created with a publicly-available methodology. However, these researchers would have to be held to even stricter standards than those taken by the Canadian and American statistical agencies.

Wal-Mart, if you're reading, I'd be more than eager to take on this task...

Posted by Kevin at 11:11 AM

A "Green" Wal-Mart?

According to the Vancouver Sun, Wal-Mart is going to extraordinary lengths to meet local government's demands:

Wal-Mart Canada has unveiled a $30-million-plus, environmentally correct design -- with windmills, geothermal heating and 250 dogwood trees -- for its controversial store on Vancouver's Southeast Marine Drive.

The design aims to appease Vancouver city council members who in 2003 told the U.S.-based retailing giant to come up with the "greenest" design possible if it wants a chance to build its first store in Vancouver.

Posted by Kevin at 11:00 AM

February 1, 2005

Purple Ocean of Deception

Via Injoke, we find PurpleOcean.org's Wal-Mart fact checker.

I hate deception; this list made me angry. Very, very angry.

Like almost all anti-WM factoid lists I've seen, this one doesn't really care to give you the whole truth; it provides carefully selected information in a misleading manner. Their points might very well be valid in themselves, but devoid of context and discussion, they are worthless.

Here's a point by point analysis, PO's text in italics, my reply in blue.

Low Prices � At What Cost?

Doesn't this seem to imply that low prices are the only benefit of WM? I guess if you don't live in a rural area that had NO stores nearby before Wal-Mart opened up, this would be a simple deduction. And I guess if you believe that nobody ever manages to make it up the corporate ladder, that would be a good assumption.

Wal-Mart sales clerks made an average of $8.23 an hour�or $13,861 a year�in 2001. That's nearly $800 below the federal poverty line for a family of three. (Source: Business Week)

Ah, yes, the Bianco and Zellner article. I had to email them to find out what the hell was going on, since their statement conflicted with other published data; Wendy Zellner responded very politely. B and Z were right. If you read the article carefully, you'll find that, indeed, Wal-Mart sales clerks made $8.23 an hour in 2001.

But that figure includes part-timers and excludes all other jobs--like cashiers and department heads! They are the lowest-paid workers at WM. If you look at all full-time workers who've worked at WM one year -- the one's that are likely to be supporting families and will be measured against federal poverty lines -- the average wage in the largest jobs was $9.26 an hour in 2001 and average annual earnings of $17.5K for women and $18.6K for men.

Folks, what is so hard about being honest with the data? Btw, the figures are from the statistical consultant (Drogin) hired by the sex discrimination class lawyers.

In Georgia, Wal-Mart employees are six times more likely to rely on state-provided health care for their children than are employees of any other large company. (Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Probably true, but don't most other "large companies" require labor that is much more trained and experienced. So what's the point here, exactly?

Reliance on public assistance programs in California by Wal-Mart workers costs the state's taxpayers an estimated $86 million annually. (Source: UC Berkeley Study)

Arguably true, but definitely misleading if you don't compare this $86 million to what the taxpayers would have paid supporting workers if Wal-Mart did not exist.

In the first decade after Wal-Mart arrived in Iowa, the state lost 555 grocery stores, 298 hardware stores, 293 building supply stores, 161 variety stores, 158 women's apparel stores, 153 shoe stores, 116 drugstores, and 111 men's and boys' apparel stores. (Source: Iowa State University Study)

Wal-Mart drives competitors out of business. YAWN. My family owned small mens' clothing stores that didn't fare well against Today's Man and the like. Other companies doing better than you. That's tough.

Every year Wal-Mart purchases $15 billion worth of products from China. (Source: Washington Post)

And it will purchase more than a billion from India. Here's a shocking opinion: international trade makes us better off, not worse off. But it's not just Wal-Mart buying from China; WM's consumers purchase those $15 billion worth of products from China. This fact is not a "cost". You might object that WM has caused the decline of American manufacturing. It has certainly speeded up the process of industrialization in China and manufacturing job loss in the US, but protecting these American manufacturing jobs by restricting imports from China will cost far more than the jobs are worth to the U.S. as a whole. Individual workers are definitely hurt in the short run, but consumers are immediately better off. Manufacturing jobs are in decline; we cannot, and indeed, should not stop this process by artificial controls on production or consumption.

Today Wal-Mart uses over 3,000 Chinese factories to produce its goods�almost as many factories as it has stores in the U.S. (3,600). (Source: L.A. Times)

People want Wal-Mart to change this... how? Would people be happier if these factories were in Chile or Brazil or Russia? No, people want them in the U.S., which is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN without severe restrictions that would drastically harm the Chinese economy -- and ours. Listing the number of factories seems to imply some form of major tradeoff between an American factory and a Chinese factory, and an American job with a Chinese job. , which isn't so. These factories won't be coming back.

Anyway, carping about owning factories in foreign countries seems petty. Should Toyota stop assembling cars in the U.S. to help the Japanese?

All else being equal, U.S. counties where new Wal-Mart stores were built between 1987 and 1998 experienced higher poverty rates than other U.S. counties. (Source: Pennsylvania State University Study)

This is probably the worst item for a list about the cost of low prices, since the study did not include a regional effect for Wal-Mart's low prices!!! In the opinion of price index researchers, this Supercenter effect is considerable; and in my opinion, this could really adjust poverty rates downward in WM areas. Much more research needs to be done before any of this is a "fact". Also, what about the past 7 years?

Posted by Kevin at 3:23 PM

Jon Stewart on WM

Thanks to reader C. Adam Mitchell who sends in a link to audio and video downloads of Jon Stewart's recent comedic report on Wal-Mart.

Mr. Mitchell found it at Boing Boing which describes the segment:

Lisa Rein has just posted a scathing and high-larious Daily Show commentary on Wal-Mart, in which Jon Stewart rebuts the latest round of feel-good PR from the retail giant.
This description is wrong. The "latest round" of PR? Even Wal-Mart's critics have noticed the lack of a formal PR response to union and activist pressure...

Still, Stewart's opinion of Wal-Mart might be considered tainted. Although it was available on walmart.com, Jon Stewart's latest book was not stocked on Wal-Mart's shelves. Hence, one might reasonably presume that personal motives could combine with left-of-center political ideology... which is all fine, since it's meant to be funny.

More later, after I get to view the show myself...

Posted by Kevin at 11:57 AM

Megan Holden Remembered

The Wal-Mart associate kidnapped and murdered had a funeral service attended by over 1000 people.

Posted by Kevin at 7:13 AM

Vial of Life

It's hard to estimate how effective this program will be:

Wal-Mart Pharmacy's Vial of Life program is a free service that provides customers with kits that notify emergency personnel of a patient's special circumstances, enabling them to adjust treatment as needed.

"Wal-Mart is proud to offer this free service to our customers," said Jim Martin, senior vice president of pharmacy for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. "By helping our customers get important medical information into the hands of emergency personnel, we can help save crucial minutes and even lives."

The kit consists of medical information sheets, a vial with a label and a press-on sticker. Customers simply fill out the medical information sheets, place them in the vials and set the vials on the top shelf in their refrigerator door.

They place the press-on stickers in the front entrance or windows of their homes to alert emergency personnel to the vials so they can consult the medical information sheets before giving care.

Posted by Kevin at 7:10 AM

On Local Identity...

An interesting article only tangentially related to Wal-Mart:

The reality seems to be that even if everyone buys nine-packs of toilet paper at Wal-Mart, gets fancy clothes at a department store owned by the May Co., and saves money in Bank of America, they still live quite different lives in different parts of the country.
The article also uses the stupid red-state / blue-state divide; it's stupid because I live in a red state (Virginia voted red 54 to 45), but in a city (Alexandria) that voted blue 67-33. The nearest two Wal-Marts are also in a "blue" county...

Non of this has absolutely anything to do with retail identity in the local region.

Posted by Kevin at 7:06 AM

WM Sells iPod Mini, Shuffle

I hadn't realized that WM was selling Apple products:

Wal-Mart Stores has quietly begun selling Apple Computer's popular iPod Minis in select stores, the mega retailer's first big move into the market for the enormously popular digital music players.

The discount chain is selling Minis in a "limited number of stores," a Wal-Mart representative said Monday. The representative declined to elaborate on how many of the company's nearly 5,000 stores are carrying the device.

Some Mac forum commenters think this is a deal with the devil.

Posted by Kevin at 6:54 AM