August 8, 2005

A Different Perspective

MacLeans offers a different perspective than one normally reads about when Wal-Mart is the topic. I find this quote particularly interesting:

The plight of Robertson's own union illustrates why. Over the past three years, his local has lost 3,000 members -- a decline of more than 10 per cent -- and he says Wal-Mart is the number 1 reason for it. Unionized stores have had to cut staff and wages to compete, and other companies have increased efforts to prevent unionization.

The UFCW's membership crisis is but one example of a larger trend unfolding throughout the continent, as traditionally union-heavy industrial companies downsize, and as mostly non-union sectors like services, technology and retail become a much larger portion of the economy. The same phenomenon is happening in Canada, where private sector unionization has fallen from 26 per cent in the early 1970s to just 18 per cent in 2003. In short, organized labour is dying a slow death and its financial strength and political influence are waning as a result.

The fight over Wal-Mart is really a fight to halt organized labour's gradual death spiral. If the unions are to turn the tide, they need to be in retail, and if they are going to get into retail, they have to get into Wal-Mart -- union leaders themselves acknowledge as much. As Stuart Acuff, organizing director of the AFL-CIO, America's umbrella organization for trade unions, told Fortune last year, "If we want to survive, labour has no choice but to organize Wal-Mart."

I have been meaning to look more closely at grocery employment across the country. It would seem that organized labor's struggles in the grocery business began long before Wal-Mart ever began selling produce and Fruit Loops. I first noticed this by chance in my local grocery store that there were only a few check out lines open anymore. This is, of course, becuase technology has been added over the years to speed up the process.

There was a time when paying higher wages meant faster checkouts and more sales. When everything was done by hand somebody with a good memory would be able remember prices and codes. Scanners have made smarter people less necessary. They are simply being replaced by machines. Anectdotally, my impression is that a fair amount of grocery workers could find employment at equal or higher pay than their union wages. In my local Wal-Mart, a fair amount of the people I wouldn't say the same thing( and note the word some, I generally find people at WM to be good. it's one of the reasons I like to shop there, but I have run across some I wonder how they managed to get a job). This doesn't mean this is true across the country as some people live in towns with limited employment opportunities and I'm talking about L.A.

Posted by Bob on August, 8 2005 at 11:19 PM