October 24, 2005

The Two Wal-Mart Movies

Anita French outlines both Wal-Mart movies:

Greenwald is the New York filmmaker who has made his own Wal-Mart documentary critical of the Bentonville-based retailer. Titled "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices," the film presents a negative view of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s impact on communities and has been endorsed by several of the company's critics.

Brothers Ron and Rob Galloway are behind the "Why Wal-Mart Works And Why That Makes Some People Crazy" documentary that takes a more favorable look at the company...

Where can you get these films?
The Galloways' documentary is set to be released for sale Nov. 12 at amazon.com.

Greenwald's film is set for a limited run in New York and Los Angeles theaters Nov. 4, and then will be shown at more than 3,000 churches, colleges and community centers nationwide on Nov. 14, according to his press office.

Each has a blog:

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices

Why Wal-Mart Works And Why That Makes Some People Crazy

Posted by Kevin at 10:25 AM

October 7, 2005

Leo Hindery Jr. Goes After WM

One month after his telecom piece attacking Bush appeared in Businessweek, Mr. Hindrey goes after Wal-Mart:

When H. Ross Perot ran for President back in 1992, he coined a memorable political phrase. The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, he said, would create "a giant sucking sound" -- the sound of jobs escaping out of the U.S. and into Mexico.

Today, if you listen carefully, you can hear a second giant sucking sound: Wal-Mart sopping up the vitality from middle-class American families, local communities, and the national economy.


Who is this guy? A Nascar Democrat (read it to the end) and, after Gephardt, a Kerry supporter! On the face of it, a former telecom executive. Dkosopedia notes an extensive financial involvement with Democratic politics, and Powerline noted that Mr. Hindrey is a big-time Democratic activist/fundraiser, forcing BW to include this information in his bio.

But I don't care about his politics or his finances. I care about his ideas -- their originality and the evidence supporting them. So what about it?

First of all, Mr. Hindrey's not saying anything new. These are all talking points, and I cannot see why BW needed to reprint the same unproven accusations that have been in its pages before.

Second, as far as I can tell, nobody has ever bothered to even list the towns "clobbered" or "destroyed" by Wal-Mart, let alone try to separate the impact of Wal-Mart's arrival from the large stores that came before it, while adjusting for cyclical business conditions and changes in tax policies.

Given that nobody has studied the issues in a detailed, sophisticated, not to say even mildly comprehensive manner, why whould I take seriously Mr. Hindrey's bombast?

The criticism goes on and on and on without people actually figuring out Wal-Mart's impact...

Posted by Kevin at 5:16 PM

September 19, 2005

WM No Way's Commercial

Wal-Mart No Way! has a superbly-executed, tremendously one-sided, fact-devoid, emotionally-tugging one minute commercial being aired on NY1. If you haven't seen it, you can do so here.

See also their poster with WM-branded spaceships attacking the city. They've even refined their message with "discriminating against women and immigrants"!

Posted by Kevin at 2:46 PM

September 13, 2005

A Defamatory Open Letter?

The Benton County Daily Record refused to run Wake-Up-Wal-Mart's open letter to Lee Scott, calling it defamatory.

It's obvious the lawyers and advertising reps had a busy weekend with this one, but the relevant question remains whether the letter can be considered defamatory. I'm no expert on these matters, but read it for yourself, and then come back, and we can mull it over.

First off, what does defamatory mean?

defamatory: (adj.) harmful and often untrue; tending to discredit or malign

Even though "harmful" and "tending to discredit" are pretty broad standards, I do not see where the direct language of the letter is defamatory. But that's not really relevant, since the implications of its wording can easily be seen as "tending to discredit or malign" Wal-Mart: to wit, by having not already complied with WUWM's demands, Wal-Mart is providing wages and benefits that cannot support families, discriminating against women and minorities, exploiting children, destroying jobs, not working with communities, etc.

These are all hotly contested allegations that Wal-Mart denies. Putting their message in a "work with us" frame is a nice way for WUWM to avoid making possibly defamatory statements directly, but does not absolve the newspaper from liability.

WUWM demanded to know what in the letter was defamatory. But to demand that the newspaper point out what's defamatory in the letter is to demand that they tell it what it already knows.

I'd be interested in hearing from people who know the Arkansas law governing these matters.

UPDATE: Here's more from the BCDR:

Jeff Jeffus, vice president and general manager of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Northwest Arkansas edition, said "there were potential defamatory statements made in it, and there were unsubstantiated claims." He declined to specify what might be defamatory, but said the ad could be resubmitted for review. "We can’t advise them as to what is and is not potentially defamatory," he said.
That's a sensible position to take, and, I think, an accurate one.

Posted by Kevin at 10:31 AM

UFCW Hires Temps to Picket Wal-Mart

Via Fark and Mark Steckbeck comes news that the UFWC has hired temps at $6-8 an hour (and no benefits) to protest at a Wal-Mart in the Las Vegas area:

"It don't make no sense, does it?" says James Greer, the line foreman and the only one who pulls down $8 an hour, as he ambles down the sidewalk, picket sign on shoulder, sweaty hat over sweaty gray hair, spitting sunflower seeds. "We're sacrificing for the people who work in there, and they don't even know it."
But it gets much better.
But standing with a union-supplied sign on his shoulder that reads, Don't Shop WalMart: Below Area Standards, picketer and former Wal-Mart employee Sal Rivera says about the notorious working conditions of his former big-box employer: "I can't complain. It wasn't bad. They started paying me at $6.75, and after three months I was already getting $7, then I got Employee of the Month, and by the time I left (in less than one year), I was making $8.63 an hour." Rivera worked in maintenance and quit four years ago for personal reasons, he says. He would consider reapplying.
And there's a wonderful flame war in the Fark link above.

Posted by Kevin at 7:55 AM

September 12, 2005

True and Misleading

A lot of Wal-Mart criticism is just that -- both true and misleading. How about this response to Wal-Mart's three-day pay policy after Katrina:

Fergus, Ont. -- In rushing aid to Katrina's victims, says Margaret Wente, Wal-Mart is an outstanding example of corporate efficiency and generosity. We wonder whether Wal-Mart is taping pink slips to the bottles of water it's handing out, because four days after the storm hit, the company stopped paying its workers at 36 closed stores in the region.
That Wal-Mart is leaving some people in a hard place is fair criticism. It's the truth, but certainly not the whole truth, which is rather complex. Contrary to the implied message, Wal-Mart is not letting displaced employees starve, and (as far as I can tell) has not been letting people go, or dragging them along with no promise of future employment within the company. If you're an associate, and you cannot relocate to another area where Wal-Mart can find you a job, you can apply for up to $1000 in emergency assistance, if you can demonstrate need. That's 2.5 weeks of pay for somebody earning $10 an hour, 40 hour weeks. What's Wal-Mart's take on it's treatment of its associates? "Any displaced associate can report for work at any U.S. Wal-Mart store" A promise of a job, not a pink slip. Got that?

Here's more:

* Initially, more than 34,000 Wal-Mart associates were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. So far, the company has been able to contact 87 percent of the associates to verify that they are safe or have reported to work.

* Wal-Mart’s goal is to help associates get back on their feet and move forward with their lives. The Wal-Mart Emergency Information Line, established to answer associates questions and concerns, has fielded nearly 17,000 calls.

* Any displaced associate can report for work at any U.S. Wal-Mart store. So far, these associates are working in stores as far away as Alaska, California and Nevada, but most are in states near the disaster area such as Georgia, Texas, and Florida.

* Displaced associates are eligible for up to $1,000 from the Associate Disaster Relief Fund if their homes were flooded or destroyed. Cash assistance of nearly $4 million has already been provided to more than 6,100 associates.


Posted by Kevin at 12:31 PM

September 8, 2005

Miramar, FL: "Monarch Lakes, not Wal-Mart Lakes"

An interesting assortment of articles today, including a superb article by Natalie P. McNeal in the Miami Herald about 300 anti-WM resdients opposing a new Supercenter in Miramar (really annoying registration required):

More than 300 residents formed a standing-room-only crowd at the Miramar City Hall Wednesday night, ready for a fight they'd been awaiting for months.

The residents were there to persuade city commissioners to reject plans for a new Wal-Mart supercenter at the corner of Miramar Parkway and Flamingo Road.

Residents of nearby subdivisions, especially Monarch Lakes, have been fighting the plan for months, saying that it would lead to increased traffic and crime and lower property property values. They have created anti-Wal-Mart clothing and a letter-writing campaign, and they have dedicated the Monarch Lakes website to the effort to stop the world's largest retailer....

Commissioners approved the proposal in an initial vote in June but postponed the final vote to get more research on the store's impact. The reports found that the store does agree with the city's future land-use plans and the majority of the development code....

The battle is more than just talk. Since Wal-Mart began its push for west Miramar, both sides have launched campaigns.

The Monarch Lakes subdivision, across the street from the proposed site, has a website, www.monarchlakes.org, devoted to its campaign. Homeowners have picketed City Hall, worn ''No Wal-Mart'' buttons and adopted the slogan ``Monarch Lakes, not Wal-Mart Lakes.''

118_1872 univ at pembroke rd.JPGWell, as of right now, their website is "under construction", but googling the site does bring us some very interesting hidden pages, such as WM and Women: They Suck Ass, the boilerplate Wal-Mart's anti-worker activity factsheet, and bizarre photos (like the one at left) of Wal-Mart's alleged poor treatment of the environment around their already existing stores.. It's clear that their primary concerns are 1) traffic and 2) the fear that so many people will choose to shop at Wal-Mart causing their own favorite stores to go out of business:

If Wal-Mart’s application is approved, the competition to the “better brand” stores may ultimately cause them to go out of business. If this happens, what other large commercial type businesses will the City Commissioners look to replace them?

Posted by Kevin at 9:22 AM

August 21, 2005

Is ALP Anti-Walmart?

Some of you may get a kick out of how ALP is categorized on the right sidebar of the new Wake Up The NEA blog.


Frankly, I'm baffled, though I speculate the reader comments were the reason Agent Tim put ALP in that bucket.

UPDATE 9:40PM:That was fast; ALP is now in the pro-WM category.

Posted by Kevin at 9:07 PM

August 15, 2005

Wal-Mart No Way

Wal-Mart No Way bills itself as a group of mostly Brooklyn locals who are concerned with the social impact Wal-Mart will have on their neighborhoods:

We're a group of friends and neighbors, mostly from Brooklyn, who are appalled by Wal-Mart's push to locate stores all over New York City. Everybody involved with our campaign is a volunteer � we're really stretching to make campaign activities happen.
Sounds like your normal anti-Wal-Mart group, and as far as I can tell, it is, although I cannot tell how large the group is.

But in addition to being sincere about their concerns, they were co-founded by Peter Sikora, who looks to me like a professional activist (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Mr. Sikora, who registered WMNW's domain name as is the organization's "Executive Director", is a Brooklyn local, but according to the New York Daily News used to work as public health advocate (and alternatively, as coordinator of Campaign to End Sweatshops, and many other positions) for the New York Public Interest Research Group. (If you don't like Wal-Mart's business practices, you can at least compare them to their critics' revenue generating processes; Wal-Mart doesn't tack on fees to college tuition bills, unlike many state PIRGs do -- " On about 1/3 of the state college campuses in New York State, a student's PIRG contribution is mandatory and nonrefundable. ").

Let me stress that there's nothing wrong with activism. It's perfectly fine as it goes. Everybody believes in something, but activists believe in things a lot more strongly than non-activists do.

That Wal-Mart No Way opposes Wal-Mart says little or nothing about whether "New York City" or "Brooklyn" or "the community" is fighting back, regardless of what they, Wake-Up Wal-Mart, or The Brooklyn Papers would like you to believe.

The group is new, but now brand new, as it was already in place protesting in February, and it seems have an inactive Google Group.

Let's set Wal-Mart No Way aside for a minute, and focus on local organizations that purport to support Wal-Mart's entry into a region. These can be either truly grass-roots, or somehow aided and abetted by Wal-Mart. When Wal-Mart places its people and resources are at the center of such an organization, we can rightly question the integrity and representativeness of the organization. Wal-Mart's professional lobbying team in DC and their PR folk around the country are directly serving particular interests, and Wal-Mart opponents would argue that the essential character of any pro-Wal-Mart group approved by Wal-Mart is almost corrupted and fraudulent.

I'd say that the same holds true for any group that opposes Wal-Mart. People are the same everywhere, and the social organizations they form, regardless of social aim, form the same type of networks and patterns. Genuine spontaneous, atomistic, individual concern about Wal-Mart's impact on a mass scale would be real, grassroots activism. But it appears to me that this "ideal" is not what we have with Wake-Up-Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch. (I don't know enough about Wal-Mart no Way to make any solid judgment about them). Let's assume the latter truly is grassroots and local: what happens to the integrity of the organization when anti-Wal-Mart forces infuse their people, knowledge, and financial resources into it?

My general question is, can a corps of experienced activists actually lead or manage a grassroots campaign, or are their efforts necessarily corrupted by their experience?

Posted by Kevin at 4:33 PM

August 4, 2005

Ratcheting up the Hysteria (Draft)

Leviathan Slayer isn't terribly impressed with Liza Featherstone's latest:

In "Wal-Mart's P.R. war", Liza Featherstone lays out a laundry list of alleged sins and then says:

The largest and most profitable retailer in the world -- and in the United States, with 1.3 million workers, the largest private employer -- is becoming nearly as infamous as Enron or the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.
Infamous in the minds of left-wingers, no doubt, but such infamy tells us nothing about Wal-Mart and much about the internal mental processes of those on the left. To them, a successful, profitable company is comparable to a sweatshop that locks in its employees and allows them to burn to death.
That's going more than a bit too far, I think, but the analogy was implied by Ms. Featherstone. Her claim must be a personal anecdote about her circle of associates, because it is completely unsupported by any evidence about the opinions of the wider population.

To me it seems like many (certainly not all) of Wal-Mart's critics are not making an honest assessment of the current state of the War on WM. For all the new organizations and alliances, the roster of impassioned recruits, a small but growing list of battle victories, and high political connections, the War on Wal-Mart has barely modified the reatiler's domestic and international expansion in stores or supplier base, and more importantly, has not hit the bottom line.

(The most impressive victory of Wal-Mart critics was the pay and promotion reorganization, which I think was largely in response to the gender class action lawsuit. But these not insignificant changes occurred before the current assault, and in a relevant way, prevents NOW from taking the point man position against Wal-Mart.)

WM critics' vocal and blunt attacks on particular issues have scored only minor victories, which is notable because, outside of specific new store locations, Wal-Mart isn't fighting very hard -- or at least very visibly hard -- to win individual battles. It seems to me that WM is sticking to a long-term defense plan, which counts on Wal-Mart's opponents stirring up their base wildly, but not effectively reaching out and convincing nonbelievers of Wal-Mart's evil.

I gather from first-hand, anecdotal, reading that when the conversation of the average online blogger turns to Wal-Mart, it's still mostly about 1) leaving, getting, or keeping a job there, 2) finding low prices on consumer goods, 3) going some place to hang out for a while.

WM's critics think they have unstoppable political momentum, and they are getting positive feedback from Senator Kennedy and lesser politicians, along with generous media coverage. But it's quite a leap from the mouths of media to the minds of men, and getting any federal anti-WM bill passed will require far more political support than the anti-WM forces currently have.

Like Wal-Mart itself, those opposed to Wal-Mart and its labor and supplier practices rarely tell the complete and absolute truth. Keep this in mind when you're told about the size and impact of anti-WM forces:

Years of citizen outrage -- on a slow, under-the-radar boil -- has this year exploded in a highly visible public education effort, backed by a powerful and in many ways united set of forces: two new national efforts, hundreds of community groups, unions, women's rights groups, environmental activists and mad-as-hell individuals.
But that's simply one perception among many; so let's put that paragraph through the Patent-Pending ALP Nonsense Filter:
Years of activist outrage -- on a slow, under-the-radar boil -- has this year exploded in a highly visible smear campaign, backed by a politically-minded and in many ways united set of special interest groups: two new national efforts, hundreds of already existing community groups, impotent unions, leftist women's rights groups, environmental activists and mad-as-hell individuals.

Of course, most people really don't give a hoot.

One can also question whether the characterization of Wal-Mart as an extraordinary lawbreaker is accurate:
Low labor costs and a disregard for the law have been central to the company's way of doing business
Has disregard for the law REALLY been central to the Wal-Mart business model? I'd wager the farm that Ms. Featherstone cannot get a room of business professors and MBA students to agree that a primary secret of Wal-Mart's success is lawbreaking. I don't doubt that low but competitive wages are essential to its business model; but they are also essential to the profitable operation of most retailers, including the infamous mom and pop stores Wal-Mart replaces in the unnamed towns it allegedly destroys.

Ms. Featherstone also ought to realize that, in this universe, cause must precede effect:

Another important thread in recent anti-Wal-Mart history is that for years, communities all over the nation have been fighting to stop Wal-Mart from opening new stores. Their reasons include their likelihood of worsening sprawl and traffic, the company's tendency to destroy downtowns by shuttering local mom and pop stores, its threat to union jobs and research showing that a new Wal-Mart actually increases countywide poverty rates.
Whatever the reasons -- valid or invalid -- for citizens opposing new Wal-Mart stores "for years", the poverty research is almost certainly not one of them, since, if I have the earliest version, it was published only 10 months ago. That the study did not adjust for effect of Wal-Mart's lower prices (which is hard to do), routinely goes unnoticed when people cite it.

Also, I reject Ms. Featherstone's view that government regulation of business has effectively curbed harmful corporate behavior. Economists know that government bureaucrats are not objective regulation enforcers. Regulation is, in a sense, the antithesis of the rule of law; it substitutes straight guidelines with personalities and subjectivities. I view regulators as far-too-easily "captured" (i.e. influenced in thinking, whatever the cause) by any interests, and unions know this very well with regards to both union and corporate control over the functioning of the NLRB.

Posted by Kevin at 1:42 PM

July 25, 2005

WM Watch Distorts WSJ Reporting

It's hard for me to read Wal-Mart Watch, because I can never tell how (it is not a question of when) they will intentionally distort and misreport facts, figures, and quotations.

A clear brand-new example is in their press release that describes two of their paid-for surveys showing a decrease in WM's favorability rating from 59% in March to 50% in July. These numbers are good to have, but only inasmuch as we understand completely the methodology and context of the surveys, which is not provided.

Hence, I'd like to know a few things:

1) Did WM Watch pay Westhill Partners to perform surveys in-between March and July?

2) If so, what were the results of those surveys?

3) What was said to the respondents before asking the question, "Based on everything you know or have heard about Wal-Mart, is your opinion of Wal-Mart favorable or unfavorable?" Was there prompting or a script?

4) Was this the only question asked? It's very, VERY odd, to ask one and only one question in a poll.

5) Can we get the full uncensored report from Westhill Partners?

But more importantly, WM Watch distorts a snippet from the Wall Street Journal. On Friday, July 22 John Harwood reported in his weekly Washington Wire the two following sentences:

LIBERALS STRUGGLE for ammunition against Roberts, but claim progress in denting Wal-Mart's image. The activist group Wal-Mart Watch, which calls the retailer "an irresponsible corporate citizen," says its polling shows the company's favorable rating dropping to 50% from 59% in March.

He reports what WM is claiming, and takes no position. So how does Wal-Mart Watch construe this?

Wall Street Journal: ��progress in denting Wal-Mart�s image�

Here's a screenshot:


Um, no. The WSJ did not give its own support to the WM Watch poll, and neither supported nor parroted the WM Watch claim. Another example of Wal-Mart Watch just making things up.

UPDATE: It's a start. Here's the April survey:

10B. Wal-Mart (IF FAVORABLE OR UNFAVORABLE, ASK:) Would you say you
have a strongly favorable/unfavorable opinion or a somewhat
favorable/unfavorable opinion?

----- --- --- ---
Strongly favorable 25% 31% 20% 29%
Somewhat favorable 30% 32% 32% 24%
Somewhat unfavorable 15% 12% 13% 20%
Strongly unfavorable 16% 15% 13% 17%
Heard of but can't rate
(DO NOT READ) 11% 8% 16% 9%
Haven't heard of * 1% 1% -
Don't know/Refused (DO
NOT READ) 2% 1% 5% 1%
FAVORABLE 55% 63% 52% 53%
UNFAVORABLE (NET) 31% 28% 26% 37%
FAMILIAR (NET) 86% 91% 78% 90%

Note: Percentage less than 0.5 printed as *.

I have sent an email to WM Watch asking for them to release all the data.

Later: WMW has decided to keep the rest of the data in-house, as is their right. In response, I have decided not to trust their polling data. , as I cannot confirm that the political composition of the sample hadn't changed considerably. Well, by looking at the data, it seems that they force the sample into a 1/3 Repub, 1/3 Dem, 1/3 Indy mix, so one of my concerns is moot.

Posted by Kevin at 9:47 AM

July 21, 2005

Anti-WM Nurses

Anti-WM sentiment is everywhere. Wal-Mart purchased a full-page back cover advertisement in the American Journal of Nursing with the words "It doesn�t take a brain surgeon to recognize a good deal on scrubs," written on a cast. Of course, unionized nurses were aghast!

To their credit, the journal editors gave WM a chance to respond.

Wal-Mart has agreed to change the ad's wording in other publications. A copy of the original can be found here.

Posted by Kevin at 9:48 AM

July 7, 2005

Campaign Tested Tactics?

Raging Pundits refutes some grievances against Wal-Mart in this Tom Curry piece.

I'll leave that reading for you, but I'd like to point out a different angle:

Now the union has recruited strategists from the 2004 Howard Dean and Wesley Clark campaigns, and they are mounting a crusade that goes beyond the usual union tactics, such as the boycott or shareholder resolution expressing disapproval of a company�s policies.
Should Wal-Mart be scared or overjoyed about the direction taken by Wake-Up Wal-Mart? The please-the-extreme activism of the Dean and Clark strategists didn't work out well in the 2004 election, and I'd argue will not work in swaying public opinion against WM. What precisely are their new methods?
Blank and Kofinis are deploying election campaign-tested tactics to assail Wal-Mart: running petition drives and holding house parties, canvassing at farmers� markets, stockpiling an e-mail list and conducting conference calls to marshal the efforts of local anti-Wal-Mart activists.
These might be campaign-tested, but what did the campaign-tests reveal? Note that I'm on the WUWM email list, and can listen in to the conference calls if I so desired, so you'd better believe Wal-Mart has people doing the same.

Posted by Kevin at 3:41 PM

June 6, 2005

The Market Should Regulate Wal-Mart

A letter writer in the Philadelphia Daily News recognizes something all too easily forgotten -- that markets perform regulatory functions:

But "Sprawl-Mart" and other companies should not be forced to offer the health benefits cited in your editorial. The market should regulate Wal-Mart's bad policies: employees should find other jobs at places that pay better and offer better benefits, then Wal-Mart will be forced to pay more and offer better benefits in order to compete. Likewise, people should boycott Wal-Mart, as I do, to show that they do not approve of their policies.
What's required to end the growth of Wal-Mart is much more than this; complaining and politicking is a feel-good response. Anybody who wants to crush Wal-Mart has to get a critical mass of geographically-concentrated consumers -- not newspaper owners, not politicians, not movie stars -- to do it for them. And to do that, you have to give them better alternatives. Wining about wages, bickering about benefits, and hollering about hours is just wind without meaning. My gut tells me that this battle will NOT be decided by ideas and philosophies.

What the letter-writer doesn't seem to realize is that the market is already "regulating" businesses in exactly the way she desires; it's using Wal-Mart to regulate WM's competitors. Inasmuch as Wal-Mart is crushing the little guy, the market is regulating the little guy... in a way he hadn't been regulated before.

The only way Wal-Mart will be stopped is if a real competitor figures out how to crush it. So if you oppose Wal-Mart, you should be doing your best to make local and state regulation as benevolent to competition as possible. I've often pointed out that big-box restrictions usually only apply to Wal-Mart; but that's not completely true. BB restrictions apply to potential future competitors too. By limiting the size of stores, and requiring too-onerous economic and environmental reviews, it is very possible that a locale is making it harder for the next generation retailer to overcome Wal-Mart.

Posted by Kevin at 9:11 AM

June 5, 2005

Anti-Trust in Two Easy Lessons

About a month after I began blogging at The Eclectic Econoclast, I wrote the following:

Anti-trust in 2 Easy Lessons

1. You must compete.
2. You must not win.

At least that's how too many people think of Walmart.

I was reminded of this lesson by Kevin's post several days ago, citing the investment blog, Motley Fool.

Here is more from that article:

In my humble opinion, Wal-Mart's real sin is that it has been successful. Extremely successful.

Americans seem to have an odd sort of paranoid schizophrenia with respect to wealth. On one hand, we enthusiastically pat ourselves on the back for living in a country that offers unparalleled economic opportunity. On the other hand, Americans are generally suspicious and resentful toward the wealthy or successful, and "class warfare" is a time-tested political strategy.

In some ways it's too bad that Wal-Mart can't enjoy more of its own success (though the heirs to Sam Walton's fortune don't seem overly glum). After all, Wal-Mart has built itself into a colossus principally because it has delivered what people want -- when, where, and how they want it.

I am really distressed that people would like to limit the successes of firms like Wal-Mart; the successes of these firms make consumers better off, and they typically create better jobs and better working conditions than had been available in the businesses they displace [K-Mart, anyone??]

Posted by TheEclecticEconoclast at 8:30 PM

June 3, 2005

Stephen Simpson's no Fool

A well-rounded analysis, though lacking supporting details.

America's largest retailer, Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT), is undoubtedly one of the most successful companies of modern times, but it also appears to be among the most disliked. Whatever the merits of the complaints levied against it, there's no denying that Wal-Mart has become a target and a cause celebre amongst those opposed to big business. The question remains, though: Does Wal-Mart deserve this, and should investors be worried?
We really don't know the size and strength of dislike for Wal-Mart. In fact, I gather that Wal-Mart is simultaneously the most liked and disliked of companies...

[H/T: The Eclectic Econoclast]

Posted by Kevin at 8:33 AM

Shareholder's Protest (Updated)

As often happens, the media nearly outnumbered the protesters last night at Against the Wal's march against Wal-Mart. Nothing much to report. There were about twenty-five people walking up Dickson street and chanting anti-WM slogans. The whole thing seemed a bit disjointed as they chose to protest in Fayetteville's bar district rather than thirty-five miles away in Bentonville where Wal-Mart is actually headquartered.

UPDATE: (Same or Different?) protestors are arrested:

wmeattown.jpgPolice said five men and one woman used glue early Wednesday to stick posters that criticized Wal-Mart on several campus buildings. One of the posters said "Everyday Low Wages," and the other said "I Will Eat Your Town and Smile."

Officers said the group also spray-painted anti-Wal-Mart slogans on campus...
Five people were arrested and charged with criminal mischief. Two of those arrested are from Fayetteville, and the others involved in the case are from Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma and New Jersey. No names were immediately released.
Posted by Angus at 6:26 AM

June 2, 2005

WM Documentary

In case you just can't get enough of Wal-Mart, there is to be a new documentary entitled Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price:

Their plan is to depict what they and a growing number of critics perceive to be Wal-Mart's sins against society: unfair competition and erosion of the fabric of communities; exploitation of its American workers, and of the government welfare programs many rely on to supplement their wages and benefits; union busting; reliance on suppliers with sweatshops overseas; and environmental negligence, among others.

They also intend to show how the retailer exerts its outsized influence on American culture through the so-called "Wal-Mart effect," by limiting the choices of products like clothing, music - and movies - that are available to consumers.

"Nobody else has a million and a half workers..."
Except, of course, the U.S. military, which has never been accused of determining the wages of non-military personnel.

[H/T: Producer Jim Gilliam]

Posted by Kevin at 8:47 AM

May 28, 2005

Small Shareholders Want Their Say

Owning a few thousand, or even a few hundred shares, of Wal-Mart gives those who want to reform or retard it another soap box to stand on:

The AFL-CIO Reserve Fund of Washington, D.C., which owns 2,700 shares of Wal-Mart Stock, wants senior executives to get shares of stock based on performance, rather than getting stock options....

The Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, Convent Station, N.J., which owns 2,840 shares of Wal-Mart stock, wants the company to say how it promotes women and minorities or encourages their advancement...

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters of Washington, D.C., which owns 160 shares of Wal-Mart stock, and another unnamed filer ask the Wal-Mart board to compile a semi-annual report on policies on political donations made with company funds.

Posted by Kevin at 2:01 PM

May 26, 2005

Bomb Scare in Ithaca WM

This is not a peaceful, democratic form of protest:

A bomb scare at the Ithaca Wal-Mart Wednesday resulted in the evacuation of at least three retail stores and left officials concerned for the health of nine law enforcement officers.

Preliminary tests Wednesday on a substance discovered at the scene, after the device was destroyed, found that there was no toxic threat involved....

A bomb squad from the Endicott Police Department arrived shortly after 8 a.m. Bangs Ambulance, Ithaca Fire Department and Cornell University, which brought a trained bomb-sniffing dog, also responded initially.

The Endicott bomb squad "ended up using a 12-gauge shotgun to shoot the device, which did not detonate," Russell said. "It (the bomb) appears to be a hoax.

"When they shot it, it flew apart...."

The Ithaca Wal-Mart opened in January after years of legal wrangling and community debate. The store should boost sales tax revenue for the city, but some activists have raised concerned over workers' wages and potential effects on smaller businesses in the area.

"There has been controversy, yes, but it's been extremely successful since it's opened," Holcomb said of the store.

"We took the bomb scare seriously since something like this has not happened in the recent memory," said Holcomb.

Posted by Kevin at 9:30 AM

May 23, 2005

No Cleveland Wal-Mart Updated

If you care about Cleveland, and you care about keeping out Wal-Mart, No Cleveland Walmart is a group blog for you.

This deals with the Steelyard Commons, which I briefly blogged about here.

The Steelyard Commons project hit a wall when Wal-Mart bowed out of the deal earlier this year.

City council tried to put limits on the store.

But, Mayor Jane Campbell got Wal-Mart to take a second look.

Now, they�ve taken out building permits with developer Mitch Schneider to start work on a store that will include the kind of supersize grocery council feared would hurt local stores and workers.

�The day we open, grocery prices will get much more competitive in the city regardless of where residents shop and that�s a terrific value for everyone shopping in the city of Cleveland,� said Keith Morris of Wal-Mart community affairs.

Needless to say, Wal-Mart's opponents have gathered forces once again...

UPDATED: 100 protestors show up at a City Council meeting to protest Cambell, who wasn't even there.

Posted by Kevin at 6:54 PM

May 2, 2005

"Mother of all Mother's Day Cards."

Tomorrow, "Love Mom, Not Wal-Mart" is headed to the big apple:

As part of the press conference, speakers will join together in signing the "Mother of all Mother's Day Cards." The enormous eight foot-by-eight foot card calls on Lee Scott, CEO of Wal- Mart, to honor and respect our nation's women and mothers by ending the company's discrimination against women. The giant Mother's Day card will be mailed to Scott with the names of thousands of supporters.
On ALP, tomorrow's activism today!

Posted by Kevin at 9:19 PM

April 29, 2005

Talking to Small Towns

wmw_ad.gifWal-Mart Watch has taken out blogads in some econoblogs, and are now on their second ad.

Their first advertisement noted that 70% of WM's products are made in China, and as recently as 11 years ago, Wal-Mart still focused on "Made in America" in company literature. 11 years ago! I was 16 at the time, and don't even remember those advertisements that were airing before then, but some people do. That ad ignored the fact that the 70% figure drops considerably if you add in produce, and pretends that Wal-Mart still presents itself as an all-American company. I don't think it does, and WMW has not made a case that is at all convincing to me. And if you were to go into any WM in the DC region, I doubt you would get that feeling at all...

Anyway, the latest ad (at left) starts by informing us that WMW has instilled fear into the heart of Wal-Mart. No evidence -- such as actual internal memos or emails, extensive corporate mobilization, or a renewed PR campaign -- is given on WMW to back up this claim.

The main graphic is a pretend email from the Chairman to the CEO telling the latter to do something because "customers are asking questions" -- apparently more serious questions than where they can find the toaster on deep rollback.

But the main text is criticaly important; it says that WMW is trying to bring attention to the towns Wal-Mart has allegedly "destroyed". I've been waiting for them to do this. Everybody talks about the destruction of towns, but nobody photographs them.

In the comments to their first post, I challenged WMW to name the actual towns Wal-Mart has allegedy destroyed, and post before and after photos. I hope they will try, but honestly, I do not think that they will follow through. Naming them would permit an honest analysis of the actual impact the arrival of Wal-Mart stores has had on small towns, and WMW is not about "educating" on all sides of the issue.

Posted by Kevin at 9:57 AM

April 27, 2005

Love Mom. Now, What's This About Wal-Mart?

Via WUWM blog we find that some Democratic members of Congress allied with WUWM are calling for a mothers' day Wal-Mart boycott:

Rep. George Miller of California, a fervent Wal-Mart critic, said, "None of us here wants to see Wal-Mart fail as a company. On the contrary, what we want to see is Wal-Mart succeed responsibly � with employees who are fairly compensated, without accelerating the flow of U.S. jobs overseas, and with a respect for the law and workers."

Added beauty-queen Sapp, "They have intelligent, passionate women who want to succeed ... but what they�re saying is [that the women] are not good enough, smart enough or worthy to demand that wage."

If Mr. Miller succeeds in directing corporate policy the way he wants, then he will see WM fail. And Ms. Sapp is just making things up about Wal-Mart.

It's interesting to see how the press conference is spun by local media. For instance, in New Haven, CT, the main driver is claimed to be the local representative, Rosa Delauro:

New Haven Rep. Rosa DeLauro is targeting retail giant Wal-Mart.

DeLauro is asking people to avoid shopping at Wal-Mart for Mother's Day gifts this year. It's part of her effort to get support for a federal lawsuit that accuses the nation's largest retailer of discriminating against women.

If the suit is in the courts, and should be decided by the merits of the case, not public opinion, then why exactly does she need to get support?

Some more pertinent information:

Other members of Congress joining the campaign were Linda Sanchez and Hilda Solis of California and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson and former Miss America Carolyn Sapp also backed the effort.

"For the most part boycotts rarely are very effective," said Chris McCormick, a portfolio manager at Seizert Capital in Birmingham, Mich., which manages more than $700 million, including Wal-Mart shares. "I'm not sure campaigns against them (Wal-Mart stores) have had any material effect in slowing their growth."

Strangely enough, I couldn't find any information on the websites of the female representatives, but I could right away on George Miller's website. Is this evidence of discrimination against female members of the house :-) ? George Miller's press release, from which all the news articles are taken almost in whole, is worth a read, even if to notice that Mr. Miller completely ignores the not-insignificant steps Wal-Mart has taken to ensure "fairer" pay.

Posted by Kevin at 12:39 PM

April 19, 2005

Clear Channel Rejects Anti-WM Sign

Anti-WM forces claim that Clear Channel is censoring them by rejecting an inflammatory billboard:

The image planned for the anti-Wal-Mart billboard was unusual - a fire-breathing Godzilla standing next to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge - and the language was strong: "The Wal-Monster will destroy Staten Island businesses and devastate our quality of life."
I personally think that Clear Channel should let them have this billboard, if only to show how out of line the anti-WM message is with most people's beliefs -- and reality.

I'm still waiting for people to actually give me the name and location of a community which has been destroyed or devastated by Wal-Mart.

Posted by Kevin at 7:31 AM

April 17, 2005

Paying for Healthcare

WUWM_QUIZ.gifReaders of ALP know the difference between health care (the actual medical treatment given to those who need it) and the financing and payment for that health care. Apparently, Wake-Up Wal-Mart doesn't. The image at left is from their front page, and it asks a strangely-phrased question:

How many of Wal-Mart's 1.2 million U.S. employees DO NOT get health care from Wal-Mart?
The correct answer is not given as an option. Obviously, as a retail store, outside of its pharmacy, optometrist, and small medical aids, WM does not provide healthcare to any of its employees. Wal-Mart is not a doctor's office or a hospital; it is a retail store. It's not in the business of providing healthcare.

WuWM is actually complaining that Wal-Mart doesn't pay for the healthcare of a lot of its "associates" (which it mistakenly equates with the sub-category of "sales clerks").

WuWM phrases the question this way partly to make the question short, and partly because it doesn't want to bring up the obvious question -- why should employers be involved in the financing of their employees' healthcare at all? Private employers don't pay for employees' housing, education, food or recreation, so why healthcare?

Posted by Kevin at 10:57 AM

April 3, 2005

New Anti-WM Coalition

Via The Box Tank. Stephen Greenhouse writes about the new coordination of anti-WM groups:

In the next few months, those critics will speak with one voice in print advertising, videos and books attacking the company, they say. They also plan to put forward an association of disenchanted Wal-Mart employees, current and former, to complain about what they call poverty-level wages and stingy benefits.

The critics have already begun lobbying in 26 states for legislation intended to embarrass Wal-Mart by disclosing how many thousands of its employees do not receive company health insurance and turn to taxpayer-financed Medicaid.

I don't know if one mallet is deadlier than a hundred bee stings.

Posted by Kevin at 1:41 PM

March 19, 2005

Claude Charron: Closing Jonquiere is like the Holocaust

Our French Canadian readers will be happy to know that the press is reporting that "Former Parti Quebecois cabinet minister Claude Charron has apologized for comparing the tactics Wal-Mart uses to advance its business interests to Adolf Hitler's in prewar Germany."

What did he say about Wal-Mart?:

On Thursday, he touched off a controversy when he said Wal-Mart has become so big and powerful, nothing can stop it from doing whatever it wants. Its decision to close the Jonquiere outlet rather than negotiate with the newly installed legally recognized union is a good example, he said.

"In 1933, when Hitler took power in Germany, in the sick democracy of the time, people found something of a genius in him, too," Charron said. "For 15 years, the Germans were starving and feeling humiliated by their defeat in 1918. Any demagogue could succeed if he knew how to proceed.

"We know capitalism has had its share of victims, too. Wal-Mart's strategy seems to have been inspired by prewar Germany. No law, no regulation, no government can stop them and everyone has to conform to their blackmail.

"One day, as we remember the valiant opponents of Nazi cancer, we will remember the name of Jonquiere."

Well, I'm sorry, but this does not adequately describe his earlier comments or his "apology".

He actually referred to WM closing the Jonquiere store as a holocaust, and referred to the town itself as Auschwitz. [Link in French]

What a moron.

Also, he did not really apologize to WM or to its supporters; he still calls WM's policies totalitarian. The written apology, translated tells all:

Charron said he was angered by the lack of solidarity citizens were showing for the workers when they said the union got what it deserved for messing with Wal-Mart.

He said people who say that are in fact victims who have fallen for globalization propaganda and become the unwittingly accomplices of the multinational that is closing the store.

He said he was trying to say sincere, poor Germans also believed Hitler would pull them out of the mess they were in and would work for them.

"That is not to say that the biggest employer in the world does not lend itself through its practices to behaviour worthy of a totalitarian regime through its negation of rights recognized by parliament," Charron added.

In other words, the most positive characterization of his previous remarks is that he maligned those who said that the union got what it deserved by fighting Wal-Mart. He called them accomplices of a multinational, victims of an ideology of globalization, in short, dupes, just like sincere Hitler supporters. He says, basically, that these people have given up their dignity and their judgement as citizens for mere consumerism.

This is an apology??? What a smug elitist?!

In a way, though, he sounds just like the UFCW spokesperson.

H/T: The Eclectic Econoclast via the Emirates Economist.

Posted by Kevin at 12:52 PM

February 9, 2005

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

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

January 26, 2005

"Public Eye Award" Given to Wal-Mart

Now this is an award not to be proud of:

Critics of globalisation on Wednesday rounded on the "irresponsible" conduct of four top companies including the oil giant Shell and Dow Chemicals on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

As the meeting of global political and economic leaders got underway at the Alpine Resort of Davos, pressure groups meeting nearby gave their "Public Eye Awards" to the two multinationals, as well as to the US retail chain Wal-Mart and audit firm KPMG International.

But wait, what is the standard of proof needed to win such an award? Apparently, none.

The full nomination can be found here. However, none of the supporting material has anything to do with the alleged abuses detailed here. All the supporting documents discuss WM's activities in the US, while the nomination is made for international sweatshops abuses. News stories of one have absolutely nothing to do with the other. Also, all the accusations are from activities that occurred in 2003 or before, so WM, like Dow Chemical, is actually nominated for refusing to admit guilt for past activities, not new ones.

Of course, WM ,along with 19 others, had no chance to defend their records. WM was nominated by the Clean Clothes Campaign in the Labor Rights category, because of alleged (a word NEVER used by the nominee) abuse in South Africa, Kenya, and Thailand. We already know that WM is evil because it fights the U.S. unions that despise it, but now it's evil because it fights foreign unions.

Still, just what did Wal-Mart do to deserve such accolades? Some pretty nasty stuff:

First of all, there is the case of the 21 Wal-Mart clothes supply factories in Lesotho (South Africa). A normal working day in Lesotho lasts 10 hours. Added to that is compulsory overtime of up to 4 hours daily, which amounts to 14 hours daily. In some factories, the workers are forced to do
double shifts. Most of the workers get a meagre monthly wage of US$54. Moreover, the workers expressed complaints that the factories are chillingly cold in winter and stiflingly hot in summer, since there is no sufficient insulation, heating or air conditioning. In one factory, there are no more than 3 bathrooms for 900 workers. Repeatedly, there have been verbal, physical and sexual harassments. The managers of the factories refuse to enter into negotiations with the trade unions.

Second, there is another case of clothes supply factories in Kenya. Three of them - Kentex, Baraka und JAR - produce for Wal-Mart too. In January 2003, workers expressed complaints towards the authorities on the deplorable working conditions (wages below the subsistence level, pressure on the trade unions, long working hours etc.) and they went on strike for one day. Afterwards, they negotiated with the employers. In a press release, the employers granted the trade unions access to their factories so that they could recruit workers. In addition, they agreed to enter into furthe negotiations on better working conditions. All of a sudden five factories, amongst them Kentex,
Baraka and later JAR, were closed down and the workers were dismissed. The factory managers later employed other workers. They made it crystal clear to them that they would not accept any individual complaints and no trade unions.

Another case concerns the clothes manufacture Par Garment situated near Bangkok. It used to produce for Wal-Mart. The factory was closed down because the owner was in arrears with his credit repayments. He now produces in other factories, far away from Bangkok. He left his former employees jobless and without any compensation.

How much of this is real, and how much is hysteria? I don't know.

But the nomination documents present no evidence whether or not individual cases of harrasment in WM factories were actually addressed. No evidence is offered that Wal-Mart's wages are not competitive for the region; they may very well be insufficient to support a family of four, but workers found them competitive enough to take in the first place. That the working day in Lesotho is 10 hours long is regrettable to some, but probably not all workers; but no proof is offered to back up claims of routing forced four-hour extensions. That Wal-Mart will not deal with local unions even though it is required by law should tell you something about the government of Lesotho; it is that government, not the company that should be in the hot seat.

But note that all the accusations of union avoidance were made by the Lesotho Clothing Union over two years ago, not a nonpartisan observer.

Also, Wal-Mart does close factories in which the unions strike and demand collective bargaining... to insist that Wal-Mart not close down such factories is childish.

Posted by Kevin at 11:10 AM

January 25, 2005

Some Ballston Spa Residents want to Exclude WM

This story makes pretty clear that anti-WM activists recognize that a vast majority of Ballston Spa residents want a Wal-Mart supercenter, since those shoppers are expected to flock to WM:

BALLSTON SPA --Residents praised the Village Board Monday night for creating a strolling village, then urged officials to reject the proposed Wal-Mart that could alter the village forever.

Concerned Citizens for Smart Growth, a group that has collected petitions with more than 250 signatures against the store.... has created a Web site, www.SaveBallston.com, with petitions and comments online....

Michael Noonan of Charles Street, who has a photography business in the old chocolate factory, said, 'We don't need a super size. We just need a good grocery store.'

A Wal-Mart could hurt many of the unique specialty shops that have sprung up in the village, Noonan said.

'Places that have made this a special place could be put out of business,' Noonan said. 'It just doesn't make sense to have a monstrosity like that come in.'

'I really like the charm of the village,' said Dave Schlitzer, a resident for 1 � years.

'A big-box store could do 'irreparable damage,' he told the board.

This is about making some people better off at the expense of others, which will happen whether or not WM is let in.

Posted by Kevin at 11:07 AM

January 23, 2005

Go Read Mad Anthony

I've been remiss in linking to Mad Anthony's superb takedown of the view that Wal-Mart sales were off because people are responding to anti-WM activism. Libertarian Girl thinks most WM shoppers don't even realize there's a controversy...

What's interesting is that WM has chosen to respond to its antagonists, indicating that an image problem could yield lower sales. But anecdotal evidence suggests that people really don't care about the controversy, even if they know about it...

Posted by Kevin at 11:49 AM

January 17, 2005

More on Not One Damn Dime Day

We previously noted the attempt by some activists to create a nationwide protest of Bush's Iraq policy by not spending a cent in retail stores on inauguration day. Now, Seth Leibsohn has another take:

I support your and all your friends' rights to your boycott, that too is a very American thing. I disagree with the merits of the boycott. But, while we disagree, can we at least agree that it is a wonderful thing to behold a country where one can peaceably protest and boycott? Iraq, I believe, will be such a country in toto very soon. For the last 25 years, it was not.
Here's a summary of links about NODDD; also, apparently some people argue that the protest will be ineffective, inciting an entry into Snopes:
As a functional protest, this one is equally off the mark. Although a boycott can be an active form of protest (even though boycott participants are in effect doing nothing, they're following a course of action that directly affects the object of their protest), boycotts succeed by causing economic harm to their targets, thereby putting them out of business or at least requiring them to change their policies in order to remain in business. But the target of this boycott isn't an entity that has the power to bring about the desired resolution (i.e., the government) � those who will be economically harmed by it are innocent business operators and their employees. These people have no power to set U.S. foreign policy or recall troops from Iraq, but they're the ones who would have to pay the price for this form of protest, incurring all their usual overhead costs (e.g., lighting, heat, refrigeration) to keep their businesses open and paying employees' salaries, all the while taking in little or no income. (And no, it doesn't all even out in the end � restaurants, for example, aren't going to recoup their lost business through boycott participants' eating twice as much the next day.)
What an extraordinarily sensible response...

Posted by Kevin at 10:33 AM

January 14, 2005

Shopping at WM is Like Smoking Crack?

Peter Chianca writes well but doesn't like WM very much:

Not that Wal-Mart has nothing to offer - there is that cheap film processing. And the cheap DVDs. And the cheap socks, gloves and pajamas. And the cheap ... Well, let's face it, it's all fairly cheap. But so is crack the first couple of times you get it. (And at least with crack you don't have to wait for 20 minutes before realizing what you're on isn't a line for a register, it's a pileup behind a cart that got caught between a stack of TVs and the giant singing Santa Claus.)
Don't take him literally...

Posted by Kevin at 12:51 PM

January 7, 2005

Opposition to Queens, NY WM Heats Up

As we noted here, Wal-Mart wants to enter Queens by revamping a run-down site in Rego park. Well, some people will have none of that:

A group of labor leaders, small businesses and politicians gathered yesterday at New York City Hall to denounce Wal-Mart Stores' plan to build its first store in the city. The rally's participants accused H. Lee Scott Jr.'s giant chain of labor violations, unfair business practices and driving local competitors out of business.
The article notes that Target, Home Depot, and Costco are already in the area... In my mind, this means it will be EXTREMELY difficult to craft legal language to prevent WM from entering...

Posted by Kevin at 11:02 AM

December 23, 2004

"Not One Damn Dime Day"

Political and consumer activism will mix on Inauguration day:

MACON,GA.- Since our religious leaders will not speak out against the war in Iraq, since our political leaders don't have the moral courage to oppose it, Inauguration Day, Thursday, January 20th, 2005 is "Not One Damn Dime Day" in America.

On "Not One Damn Dime Day," those who oppose what is happening in our name in Iraq can speak up with a 24-hour national boycott of all forms of consumer spending.

During "Not One Damn Dime Day" please don't spend money. Not one damn dime for gasoline. Not one damn dime for necessities or for impulse purchases. Not one damn dime for anything for 24 hours.

On "Not One Damn Dime Day," please boycott Walmart, KMart and Target.

Please don't go to the mall or the local convenience store.

Please don't buy any fast food (or any groceries at all for that matter).

For 24 hours, please do what you can to shut the retail economy down.

The object is simple. Remind the people in power that the war in Iraq is immoral and illegal; that they are responsible for starting it and that it is their responsibility to stop it.

Hmmm... this really is a pathetic form of protest. Bush does stuff you don't like, so you punish WalMart? If you really thing the government is doing terrible things, then you should have a mass protest by not paying your income taxes for that day... Eventually, you will be fined, arrested, and jailed--of course--but if you're not willing to go the Thoreau route, how much to you really believe in your cause? Anyway, some people think the retail boycott is a great idea... (note the URL).

Posted by Kevin at 10:29 AM

December 21, 2004

Down and Out by Liza Featherstone

When we last took account of Liza Featherstone, her book The Landmark Battle for Workers' Rights at Wal-Mart was receiving mixed reviews. The Nation tries to spice up their own and Ms. Featherstone's sales by giving her space in the January 2005 issue to discuss why Wal-Mart opens up stores in "poorville":

Betty Dukes is right. A 2000 study by Andrew Franklin, then an economist at the University of Connecticut, showed that Wal-Mart operated primarily in poor and working-class communities, finding, in the bone-dry language of his discipline, "a significant negative relationship between median household income and Wal-Mart's presence in the market."
I'll have a lot more to say about this later....

Posted by Kevin at 4:24 PM

December 11, 2004

Another Vote on WM

It was national news when Inglewood, CA had a vote turning away WM; the news was less potent when Chicago, IL agreed to let a WM open up. But there's almost nothing about local activists in Sandy, UT who have filed a petition with the city to get a referrendum on the ballot to block a supercenter:

Residents in Sandy are rallying to stop a super-sized Wal-Mart from coming to their town and now, they have a deadline to do it.

When the city council voted to change zoning rules to allow big box retailers to build on the site of a gravel pit, a group of citizens filed a referendum petition with the city.

Yesterday, the city returned petition packets.

The group has until January 7th, to gather roughly nine-thousand signatures in order to take the issue directly to voters and let them decide.

If this were Queens or Cambridge, this would be all over the national media.

Posted by Kevin at 2:21 PM

December 7, 2004

Teachers Union President Just Makes Stuff Up About WM

The President of New York State United Teachers, Thomas Y. Hobart, doesn't want you to shop at Wal-Mart:

Wal-Mart, for example, continues to set new lows for employee working conditions and benefits.
Now, he just made this up, and pretended it was a fact. Any of his union's teachers should flunk him. Does he really have evidence for, or even sincerely believe, that conditions and benefits at Wal-Mart itself have gone to "new lows" from previous years? Does he understand how much better working at WM is compared to working at many mom and pop stores WM puts out of business? Or how much working conditions have improved, and continue to improve for the lowest wage earners, worldwide?

He continues:

Despite the pretty television ads, Wal-Mart workers still face tremendous difficulty getting health insurance. When they can get it, often it's far too expensive to be affordable. Monthly premiums for the limited number of Wal-Mart employees eligible for health insurance often run as high as $264 a month. Try paying those premiums on an $8-an-hour cashier's salary.
I agree it's hard for many to pay their portion of the premium, and sometimes a "tremendous difficulty"? But why are people going to work for WM knowing that they are underpaid? WM is not forcing people to work for them; they do not have draft power. They pay wages and benefits that people voluntarily take; that's what's really scary to Mr. Hobart... Or does Mr. Hobart think WM employees are stupid? All (OK, most!) WM employees, even part-timers, qualify for health "insurance" coverage through WM once they've been there a set amount of time.

As a union man, Mr. Hobart insists that health coverage be paid for by employers. But there's little economic sense in that! In fact, it's a good part of the reason why healthcare is so expensive today. If employers paid for housing, food, or entertainment directly, does anyone doubt that housing, food, and movie markets would look vastly different, as people tried to use all their "benefits"? Once people stop paying for things themselves, usage and then costs go up.

Posted by Kevin at 12:20 PM

December 5, 2004

Questioning Child Protesters

From a protest of WM in Lynn, MA:

"Wal-Mart is the largest corporation in the world. It uses globalization in a negative way. It employs workers all over the world and exploits them by giving them extremely low wages," said Raphy Kasobel, a 10-year-old student at the Workmen's Circle Shule, a Jewish Sunday school in Brookline. "Wal-Mart makes great profits at the expense of others."
For some reason, the journalist didn't dare ask her:

1) why so many of those exploited workers all over the world want to work for WM, and find that almost all Walmart suppliers have far better working conditions than any employer based in their own country. [Hint: Why don't they just stay in the rice fields and be happy peasants?]

2) whose fault it is that some people are so poor that they are willing to work in sweatshops. [Hint: Which failed political philosophy governed China for 50 years?].

3) why she doesn't insist that the federal government take away those nasty profits, and give them to the exploited non-American workers. [Hint: Just how would this benefit American union members?]

4) why she doesn't want the shareholders of WM to be forced to transfer ownership to the workers? [Hint: Would it be too obvious that this is just socialism?]

Posted by Kevin at 4:15 PM

November 30, 2004

Liza Featherstone

Emily White recommends Liza Featherstone's new book The Landmark Battle for Workers' Rights at Wal-Mart, which is about Betty Dukes et. al. suing WM for sex discrimination:

Featherstone's book is a valuable document of a case that will be written about in the national media only if something "happens" with it, when Wal-Mart is happening all the time. Lately, the company has started airing commercials with happy female and black employees sitting in plush armchairs under a soft white light, saying how great it is to work there. The commercials seem to work: Wal-Mart keeps expanding, and more and more people flock toward the entryway from the parking lots (where employees were famously made to gather up carts after punching out on the clock).

Featherstone's book is a voice in the wilderness, a protester standing outside the automatic door shouting, This is an evil place, don't enter it! But the masses enter anyway.

Naomi Aoki reviews the book as well:
Featherstone paints a grim picture through stories of women suing Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for depriving them of pay, promotions, and job assignments because of their sex.

Still being litigated, the class-action Dukes v. Wal-Mart represents more than 1.6 million women. Featherstone builds a compelling case through interviews, legal depositions, and court records. But in the end, it's unsatisfying.

Featherstone repeatedly asserts the suit's potential to change workers' rights not only at Wal-Mart, but throughout retail. Yet she offers little insight into what change would look like. Unlike Wal-Mart, Target Corp. pays women comparable to their male counterparts and promotes women in greater numbers. But ''in many markets," Featherstone writes, ''its wages are as low as Wal-Mart."...

Perhaps the reason her proposition seems unsatisfying is that in the age of Wal-Mart, it just doesn't seem realistic.

Two years ago, Ms. Featherstone had an extremely one-sided but important article in The Nation entitled Wal-Mart Values, which included this bit:
Asked how long it will take to unionize Wal-Mart, Gretchen Adams, who is 56, answers without hesitation: "The rest of my life." But she's determined. As a manager opening a new store in Las Vegas, Adams says, "I was not allowed to hire any experienced help, because they might be union." Now, she deadpans, "I'm trying to get Wal-Mart the help it needs."
You mean WM hires inexperienced workers? How would unionization change that?

Other Featherstone links:

Salon review of recent book
AlterNet Articles
Audio: Featherstone talks to WM Worker
Email Interview about her book "Students Against Sweatshops"

Posted by Kevin at 1:15 PM

November 29, 2004

Pittsfield Township Calls in More Big Guns

We saw last month that select residents of Pittsfield Township called in anti-WM experts to stop a new WM in the planning phase.

Well, it seems that they're getting a lot of good press in their effort to make themselves look like they're speaking for everyone:

Robert Hoffman, a Charlevoix businessman who led a successful fight to stop Wal-Mart from locating in his community several years ago, told the group how "multi-faceted" opposition, from petitions to updated traffic studies, deterred the retail giant from building in Charlevoix.

"In order to protect the quality of life in our small town and to prevent a big box superstore from sucking our merchants dry, everyone got involved, including the Chamber of Commerce, businesses, environmental groups - even students," said Hoffman.

His talk was sponsored by Pittsfield Community First, a grass-roots citizens' group dedicated to stopping the project on the 44-acre property bounded by Michigan Avenue, State Road and Old State Road.

After listing complaint after complaint about the proposed WM, the article ends with this:
But one woman defended Wal-Mart and urged those in the crowd not to disparage Wal-Mart customers.

"I'm retired and I appreciate low prices," she said.

Posted by Kevin at 11:33 AM

November 27, 2004

Pathetic Protest at Missoula, Montana WM

It ain't a protest with only 11 protesters:

MISSOULA � Empty shopping carts, pushed by 11 people clad mostly in pink, gathered in the center of the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Missoula at lunch time Friday.

"I'm going to have to ask you to leave now," an employee told the group, which then formed a conga line and circled the huge store 1 1/2 times chanting "buy local, buy American" before exiting.

Shoppers looked on with a mixture of amusement and puzzlement.

"We heard you the first time," a young boy kept shouting back.

It was "Buy Nothing Day," according to Code Pink, the women's peace movement that organized the protest.

Code Pink's website is amusingly pink.

Posted by Kevin at 10:20 AM

November 18, 2004

John Talton is Burning Hot

Did you know that we're to blame for WM's "grip"?

Until 2003, the 13,000 residents of Circleville, Ohio, were blessed with the good jobs and benefits of an RCA television plant. That changed when the factory was shut down and its 1,000 jobs were moved to China.

Welcome to the world that Wal-Mart is making. Circleville was one of the consequences examined Tuesday night by the PBS program Frontline.

Readers of this column know of Wal-Mart's predatory and monopolistic tendencies. Two victims, Sears and Kmart, announced a defensive merger Wednesday. Frontline showed another face of "everyday low prices."

As Duke University Professor Gary Gereffi said, "China is the largest exporter to the U.S. economy in virtually all consumer goods categories. Wal-Mart is the leading retailer in the U.S. economy in virtually all consumer goods categories. Wal-Mart and China are a joint venture."

Taking an advantage of 50-cents-an-hour labor, Wal-Mart admits to importing $15 billion a year in goods from China. Some estimates are as high as $30 billion.

In the bloodless world of economics, one can say that Wal-Mart is helping to raise living standards of the Chinese. It has been a driver in the explosion of world trade, which, history shows, tends to deter war. It has perhaps helped hold down inflation, although not as much as its apologists suggest.

But there's always more to the story. As Frontline reported, Wal-Mart's non-union, low-benefits, heavily part-time workforce has become the "template" for American business. Taken to its logical end, it will undo 100 years of progress by the American middle class.

Oh, please!

The lower production costs fostered by WM's interventions have not just held down inflation--that's a really stupid thing to write. WM's interventions have increased manufacturing productivity, and significantly increased the real wages of its consumers; even non-"apologists" recognize the almost amazing impact that it's had.

This man is almost to the level of a conspiracy theorist. I'd love to see him try to provide actual citations for all his assertions. Given his point of view--all these good jobs are being sucked into China--how would he explain the fact that the number of "factory jobs" has declined more in China than in the US???

China is losing more manufacturing jobs than the United States. For the entire economy between 1995 and 2002, China lost 15 million manufacturing jobs, compared with 2 million in the U.S., The Conference Board reports in a study released today.

�As its manufacturing productivity accelerates, China is losing jobs in manufacturing � many more than the United States is � and gaining them in services, a pattern that has been playing out in the developed world for many years,� concludes The Conference Board study.

According to Robert H. McGuckin, Director of Economic Research at The Conference Board and co-author of the study: �Increased unemployment has also accompanied the restructuring of the industrial sector, but per capita income has risen over the period.�

Did WM cause ALL of this?

Posted by Kevin at 11:45 AM

November 17, 2004

Where Would Jesus Shop? Not WM

Again, via evso, Where would Jesus shop? Much if it provides false information, but the ending was intruiging:

Wal-Mart expects to reap $1 billion in sales of "Christian" merchandise in 2003, only the doorstep of a much larger market. Evidently, Christians are shopping at Wal-Mart. But what are we buying, when a dollar saved in the store is another dollar squeezed from the life of "one of the least of these?"

Preachers and Sunday school teachers need to be asking Christians more about what our dollars support, and in Wal-Mart�s case, who�s paying for consumer "savings." A favorite preacher of mine says, "If you want to know what people care about, look in their checkbook" (or Visa statement, as the case may be). Our purchases ought to reflect deeper values than just "always low prices." Christians have asked Wal-Mart for cleaner magazine and CD content. Perhaps it�s time to demand cleaner corporate character as well.

Posted by Kevin at 10:15 AM

What's Wrong with WM in Bullet Points

Via evso, we find that the Center for American Progress put together anti-WM bullet points last March, reprinted below the fold.

Why do I have to keep reminding people that WM is not the largest employer in the world? My guess is that the Chinese or Russian government is much larger, the US military is larger than WM, and entire US government employs about 10x more people than WM.

Wal-Mart's In Washington

Wal-Mart, currently the largest employer in the world, has also become a lobbying powerhouse, using its considerably deep pockets to manipulate lawmakers in Washington. In 1998, the company threw off founder Sam Walton's antipathy towards influencing politics and began its campaign to take over Capitol Hill.  According to the WSJ, Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) traveled to Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., to offer advice on getting started: Increase your profile and open your wallet. As a result, "Made In America" is a thing of the past and anti-labor policies are the wave of Wal-Mart's future, with money paving the way to Washington.

HEY BIG SPENDER: Wal-Mart took Lott's advice. Last year, the company's political action committee was the number one corporate donor in the country, with over $1 million in contributions. Its PAC is the second largest in Washington and the committee's donations are decidedly one-sided. According to the WSJ, "Unlike most corporations, which contribute to both parties in rough proportion to Congress's partisan split," about 85% of Wal-Mart's money goes to conservatives. Wal-Mart Senior Vice President Jay Allen recently became a "Pioneer," or a contributor who has raised at least $100,000 for the Bush campaign.

THE PRESSURE IS ON: Wal-Mart employees, who are not unionized, say they have felt pressured to give to the PAC. The WSJ reports, "At an August 2000 meeting attended by thousands of Wal-Mart managers, buckets were passed around for donations, as well as forms authorizing automatic paycheck deductions for the PAC." Voluntary is in the eye of the beholder, though: "For some employees, the pressure to contribute became a point of contention. 'With my district manager sitting 3 inches over my shoulder, you think I didn't sign up?'" said Jon Lehman, a former Wal-Mart manager.

MADE IN AMERICA NO LONGER: Founder Sam Walton's autobiography was titled "Made In America." No longer. Wal-Mart more than $13 billion in goods from China last year. China is so vital to the corporation that Wal-Mart even held its annual board meeting there. Also, Wal-Mart hired trade expert Angela Marshall Hofmann to influence federal policies. Hofmann promptly pushed through language at the Central American Free Trade Agreement meeting last September allowing Mexican manufacturers to send products duty-free to the United States. Textile mills will lose business, but Wal-Mart will get cheaper wholesale products.

THE PHARMACEUTICAL PHIGHT: Last year, in order to control costs, Congress wanted to allow seniors to order prescriptions through the mail. Forget the elderly; Wal-Mart saw this as a threat to its in-store pharmacy. The bill passed but lawmakers asked the Federal Trade Commission to study "potential conflicts of interests" in mail-order companies.

WAL-MART AS BIG BROTHER: Wal-Mart may be watching you. According to recent reports, Wal-Mart conducted secret tests to monitor consumers. A store in Oklahoma inserted miniscule radio frequency identification chips (RFIL) into packages of Max Factor lipsticks. Hidden RFIL scanners then signaled nearby surveillance cameras allowing researchers 750 miles away to watch those consumers. Another Wal-mart store did the same thing with Gillette razors at another location. (Read Sen. Patrick Leahy's speech on other privacy concerns related to micro monitoring.)

FIGHTING BACK: Wal-Mart is a financial drain on American communities, and now taxpayers are fighting back. According to a report commissioned by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the average Wal-Mart supercenter worker makes $8.23 an hour. At that low wage, the average Wal-Mart store leaves taxpayers picking up the slack to the tune of about $420,750 per year, for things like welfare, free and reduced lunches for the kids of Wal-Mart families, and health insurance. Keep your eyes on communities who are trying to block the opening of Wal-Marts in their areas, like Martinsville, IN; Oregon City, OR; Windsor Township, PA; Hemet, CA; Thornton, CO, Centerville, UT and South Valley, NM.

Posted by Kevin at 10:11 AM

October 28, 2004

Select Pittsfield Township Residents vs. WM

WM wants to expand greatly in Michigan, and some residents are using national connections to help them in their fight against it:

Almost half of the 60 or more residents in attendance addressed the Board, all echoing the same theme: stop the Wal-Mart. The majority of residents refused to believe that township officials had exhausted all avenues of obstruction to the project...

The store�s initial site plan was rejected about a year ago, but the Pittsfield Township Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit early last month that would allow Wal-Mart to build a drive-through pharmacy, a tire and lube facility, and an outdoor garden center. Developers would like to open the store next fall, according to Nick Miller, the project manager at Atwell-Hicks.

As residents learned of the plans, opposition to Wal-Mart swelled and the issue took on political overtones that could effect the Township Board election next week...

Nonetheless, Pittsfield Township Clerk Christina Lirones, who chairs the Planning Commission, said that because the parcel has been zoned commercial since 1977, it would be difficult to keep Wal-Mart out.

"We are working within the framework of the law," said Lirones. "I have tried to be honest and forthright about what we can do and what we cannot do." She added: "The things we can change, we are changing. What we can do, we are doing."

But Robert Hoffman heard the same argument from his planning commission before he organized a 30-member citizen group called This is Our Town to fight the construction of a Wal-Mart in Charlevoix Township.

"They told us it was a done deal," said Hoffman. "That Wal-Mart would outspend and outlast us."

But Hoffman�s group drew statewide attention as it collected 5,000 signatures opposing the proposed Wal-Mart, and in May the store announced in a three-sentence e-mail to Charlevoix� planning commission that it was withdrawing its plans, which had included a supermarket, general merchandise, a garden center, and a tire and lube station.

"They didn�t expect any opposition to it," said Hoffman. "They characterized us as a small interest group. We�re not sure of the impact we had, but we know we got their attention. We got public sentiment turned around."

Hoffman enlisted the help of Al Norman, who wrote a 1999 book entitled "Slam-Dunking Wal-Mart," which recounts his successful effort to keep Wal-Mart out of Greenfield, Mass., in 1993. Norman, Hoffman said, was invaluable....

At the end of the public comment period, the township supervisor said he agreed with much of what he had heard....

Posted by Kevin at 12:46 PM

October 25, 2004

When a Mile is too Short

Here's a unique WM protest--perform ancient tribal ceremonies on a sacred site one mile away from the store being constructed:

TEOTIHUACAN, State of Mexico More than 300 demonstrators streamed into the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan on Sunday and climbed part way up the towering Pyramid of the Sun...

Lugging huge banners and waving signs decrying WalMart and other international corporations, protesters who had chosen to stay out of the national park during previous demonstrations surprised tourists and visitors by setting up near the ruins' tallest pyramid.

Many on hand wore traditional Aztec headdresses and danced to a steady drum beat. Others handed out fliers, sang songs, chanted, or hung banners from trees, brush and smaller ruin structures...

Though almost a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the national park, the store site can be seen from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon, as well as from the summits of most of Teotihuacan's tallest structures. But so can other commercial developments built in the community nearby.

Many local residents support the idea of a discount retailer in the area, saying it will create jobs and bring lower prices.

Archaeologists said that so far, only minor cultural remains have been found at the store site.

In earlier years, Mexico also has seen campaigns to ease development at other notable sites such as the Mayan ruins of Tulum and remains of the preTeotihuacan culture of Cuicuilco in Mexico City.

So they hate WM for being WM. Typical.

Posted by Kevin at 11:45 AM

August 4, 2004

Berkeley Study on Government Payouts to WM Employees

You might have read that Wal-Mart employees are given $86 million a year by the California State government, allegedly to support employees given too-low wages. Most news reports, like this from Reuters, are just slimmed down versions of the Berkeley press release about the study:

UC Berkeley study estimates Wal-Mart employment policies cost California taxpayers $86 million a year

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations | 02 August 2004

BERKELEY � Employment policies at Wal-Mart, the nation's largest employer, cost California taxpayers approximately $86 million a year in public assistance to company workers, according to a University of California, Berkeley, study released today (Monday, Aug. 2).

The study indicates that Wal-Mart workers in California rely on the state for about $32 million annually in health-related services, and $54 million a year in other assistance such as subsidized school lunches, food stamps and subsidized housing.

"When workers do not earn enough to support themselves and their families through their own jobs, they rely on public safety net programs to make ends meet," said the report by Arindrajit Dube of UC Berkeley's Institute for Industrial Relations, and Ken Jacobs of the campus's Center for Labor Research and Education.

The researchers said they conservatively estimate that the approximately 44,000 workers at 143 Wal-Mart and its sister Sam's Club stores in California earn about 31 percent less than workers in large retail as a whole, and that 23 percent fewer Wal-Mart/Sam's Club workers generally are covered by employer-sponsored health insurance than workers in large retail.

There is an array of reasons for the low rates of coverage, said the researchers. They include higher employee turnover, eligibility issues, employee costs for health plans and plan quality.

In the end, Wal-Mart essentially "is shifting part of its labor costs onto the public," the report said.

To determine Wal-Mart's costs for taxpayers between March 2001 and March 2002, Dube and Jacobs relied on a variety of sources. They examined Wal-Mart's compensation policies, and wage data for part-time and full-time Wal-Mart workers contained in public testimony in a sex-discrimination case against the company. Then they worked with a statistical model of public assistance use based on wages, employer-based health coverage and demographic details such as age, race, gender and family size.

Dube and Jacobs warn that the drain on the Golden State's public assistance coffers could intensify as Wal-Mart follows through on plans to open 40 new "super centers" with combined retail and grocery operations around California over the next five years. So far, the company's only California super center is in Palm Springs.

"California and the West are among Wal-Mart's new frontiers," said Dube in an interview.

Meanwhile, the researchers cited efforts by other big California retailers, especially grocery chains, to reduce their workers' wages and benefits closer to those provided by Wal-Mart. "As the country's largest employer, (Wal-Mart) has become the standard setter," their report said.

If other big California retailers apply the Wal-Mart model to their 750,000 employees, Dube and Jacobs estimate taxpayer support to retail workers will increase by $410 million a year, for a grand total of $1.46 billion.

In just a few weeks, a contract expires for 30,000 San Francisco Bay Area grocery clerks. The contract for another 15,000 Sacramento area grocery clerks was due to expire last month, but has been extended while negotiations continue. Wages and benefits for new hires are expected to be central issues in those talks.

And on Wednesday (Aug. 4), the Los Angeles City Council will hold a hearing on legislation that would make approval of a big box store depend on the city government's evaluation of its economic impact. This legislation follows the rejection of a Wal-Mart ballot initiative in Inglewood, Calif., that would have skirted the planning process for a proposed superstore.

The complete Wal-Mart report is online.

. Indeed the complete report, written by Arindrajit Dube and Ken Jabobs was published by the UC Berkeley Labor Center on August 2, 2004. See also their reply to criticisms made by Wal-Mart.

I haven't had time to read the report, so I cannot discuss particulars.

Posted by Kevin at 10:57 AM

July 11, 2004

In These Times: The ITT List

While surfing online for something on a totally different topic, having nothing whatsoever to do with Wal-Mart, I came across this item that in my opinion is certainly worth noting.

Am quoting it in full however, as it is not clear to me exactly how long it may remain on the In These Times The ITT List Web page: News and commentary written by In These Times editors and staff.

It was orginally posted there by Emily Udell, advertising director at In These Times:

The ITT List

The Women of Wal-Mart
July 7, 2004

Today Wal-Mart asked the San Francisco Federal Court of Appeals to review Judge Martin W. Jenkin�s ruling that a sex discrimination case against the monolithic corporation be considered a class action lawsuit. The class could include as many as 1.6 million employees�almost every woman who has worked for Wal-Mart since December 1996.

Wal-Mart�s reputed discrimination against women is an issue that even 1992�s Miss America Carolyn Sapp is behind.

The former beauty queen launched a Web site Wal-Mart versus Women to spread the word about the corporation�s gender discrimination. The site features news and ways to get involved in the issue. Who would�ve thought?

In a June 2nd article The Labor Research Association connects the discrimination to the fact that Wal-Mart�s labor force is not unionized. Cynthia Green writes, �Wal-Mart has denied all claims of gender discrimination, but the alleged infractions are of a piece with the company�s history of union bashing.�

And indeed union bashing is a priority for Wal-Mart, according to a recent article by Liza Featherstone in The Nation. Featherstone quotes a Wal-Mart manger�s handbook: �The entire management staff should fully comprehend and appreciate exactly what is expected of their individual efforts to meet the union free objective.... Unless each member of management is willing to spend the necessary time, effort, energy, and money, it will not be accomplished. The time involved is...365 days per year....� This is only one of many jaw-dropping tidbits from Featherstone�s piece.

The SF Court of Appeals has not commented on Wal-Mart�s request for a review yet, but hopefully this case will go forward as a class-action suit that can begin to chip away at the bad labor practices that have been institutionalized by the world�s largest employer.

Posted by Emily Udell


There is more on the same page, however nothing else on the page I came across at the time was related to Wal-Mart or the class action court case in question.

Posted by Morgan at 8:46 PM

June 18, 2004

Anti-WM Billboard on WM Land!

Rather amusing short article about a local community association renting a billboard for an anti-WM message on land owned by WM.

A billboard erected by Wal-Mart opponents at the proposed store site in this Tacoma suburb has been torn down at the demand of the Bentonville, Ark., retailer.

The 5-by-11-foot sign proclaiming "Don't Wal-Mart Bridgeport. Not here!" on Bridgeport Way West was up for three days last week....

The billboard owner, Clear Channel Outdoor, a division of the entertainment corporation Clear Channel, took down the sign because it violated company policies because Wal-Mart owns the land, spokesman Chris Artman said.

Posted by Kevin at 4:15 PM

June 2, 2004

Mary Jo Melone

Mary Jo Melone doesn't like WM very much:

Shopping at Wal-Mart can be such a disorienting experience that I have no idea if I saved money. I am considering this a fact-finding mission. For this Wal-Mart Supercenter is supposed to be a new and improved Wal-Mart breed, half as big as these monsters usually are.

It's hard to believe that a corporation known for hiring illegal aliens, keeping out unions and driving under hometown businesses cares at all what we think. But as much as we shop at Wal-Mart stores, we're not crazy about them. The company's most successful supercenter is in Pinellas Park. The rest of Tampa Bay is carpeted with Wal-Marts, supercenters, and their cousins, Sam's Clubs. Still, we rebel.

It seems some letter writers disagree:
Mary Jo Melone's bashing of Wal-Mart is not only biased, it is filled with gross inaccuracies. Her statement, "The motor oil and baby clothes, the canned goods and the eggs, all mashed together" is wrong. Items are grouped logically and nothing is "mashed together."

She states, "I have no idea if I saved money." She did, but it appears that she is not an aware shopper.

She quotes Dr. Tom Dawson of Citrus County: "Why do they insist on forcing themselves even though people don't want them?" If people did not want them, they would not be packed with shoppers both day and night.

For those who think that we don't need more Wal-Marts, they should try shopping at the one in Pinellas Park. There are so many customers that the place is packed day and night and it is difficult to find a parking place in their "endless" (per Ms. Melone) parking. I would welcome another Wal-Mart in the area.

Ms. Melone seems to have missed the whole point of our American way of capitalism. Business success comes from offering people what they want at the best price. Wal-Mart is certainly a model of business success.

No, I am not an employee of Wal-Mart and I have no financial interest in its operation. I am merely an occasional customer.

Posted by Kevin at 8:31 AM

May 31, 2004

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy?

In the New York Post, Robert Ward calls the war on WM a vast left-wing conspiracy. He points out that Ben and Jerry caused sprawl long ago:

What of the claim that Wal-Mart will destroy the quaint business districts of Vermont's small cities? In fact, Vermont's downtowns - like others all across America - were losing economic activity to suburban and rural roads long before Wal-Mart came along.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened their first ice-cream store in downtown Burlington in 1978. Then, in the mid '80s, the two icons of socially responsible business made a strategic decision based on customer convenience and other business needs: They moved to a verdant spot outside town.

Yet no one complained that they were creating suburban sprawl. If it was OK for Ben & Jerry's to choose a location outside the city, why can't Wal-Mart make the same decision now?

Posted by Kevin at 1:46 PM

May 27, 2004

Just barely defending theoretical anti-WM activists

Kevin responded in the comments to a previous post where I defended the legitimacy (not the correctness) of anti-WM activists in response to a post of his.

This isn't a very good debate, because Kevin and I completely agree in every practical way: that the activists are wrong, and likely do not actually represent the interests of the residents of Vermont, but only those who value small-town Vermontiness over economic well-being.

But we do have some low-level theoretical disagreement. Kevin feels that the activism is patronizing and that, at base, those wanting to get governments to ban Wal-Mart feel that citizens of Vermont are dumb. (Again, I do in fact believe this to be the case: If it were actually measured, I think most Vermonters to be strongly in favor of having a Wal-Mart to shop at, and that the NTHP and most activists basically want to treat them as props and characters in a theme-park vision of Vermont.)

However, I can also imagine actual towns in Vermont where close to all residents would prefer to preserve their current way of life. (That is, small towns, small shops, other intangibles; I've been calling this stuff "Vermontiness"; maybe there's a Ben & Jerry's flavor that connotes this.) In such cases, I can see community and local activism to ban Wal-Mart as legitimate and conducted in good faith. (Wrong, nonetheless, but legitimate.)

Kevin feels that in such a community, the community standards should be enforced without government. Social mechanisms such as shame, guilt, honor, etc. should be used. He argues that in a community where most individuals do in fact prefer Vermontiness to Wal-Mart, each individual's commitment plus the aforementioned social mechanisms will ensure that the Wal-Mart would not be able to stay in business because no-one work or shop there. In a small community, of course, these social mechanisms can be effective at enforcing the community standards.

Now, if such a community existed, Wal-Mart would never open there, because they would see that they would go out of business, so there'd be no point in banning them. But activists may (and do) believe they live in such a community, while Wal-Mart believes (probably correctly, since they have money on the line) the community is actually full of people who would much prefer to work/shop at a Wal-Mart.

In such a situation, activists would be using local government as the mechanism for enforcing community behavior. I think it's wrong, but in this situation, it would be a good-faith effort to prevent: paving over a field; construction of an ugly building; having to stand outside in the cold in protesting in front of the Wal-Mart to inform and shame the shoppers; maybe some local merchants getting scared and leaving, maybe resulting in temporary inconvenience until they come back after the Wal-Mart shuts down; an eyesore left behind after the Wal-Mart went out of business.

Anyway, my point is pretty weak: I just want to say that it is not necessarily the case that anti-WM activists (and the NTHP) thinks people don't know what's good for them, and that it is possible to conceive a good-faith, non-patronizing, rights-respecting, preservationist, anti-WM activism. In the real world, that's not what we have.

Posted by gkanapathy at 1:00 AM

May 25, 2004

Anti-WM Paradox

Don Boudreaux notes that anti-WM activists have divergent, pardoxical goals:

The real paradox is the "progressive" wish for abundant, high-paying jobs, combined with a simultaneous knee-jerk allegiance to �community� efforts to chill economic change � in this case, �to keep out the retailer.�

What, after all, is the point of organizing Wal-Mart employees into a labor union if other �activists� succeed in keeping Wal-Mart out?

Regardless of your view on unions and activism, it is a fine question.

Posted by Kevin at 9:40 AM

May 24, 2004

Defending the Activists

In "WM Endangers Vermont", Kevin talks about the attitudes and arguments of anti-WM activists, and that it comes down to either "people are powerless" and "people are dumb". Furthermore, Kevin suggests that the "people are powerless" argument isn't a real argument anyway, and that it boils down to "people are dumb, and we must save them from their dumbness".

Now, I am far more in agreement with Kevin than with these anti-WM activists, but I think that Kevin is not giving the "people are powerless" argument a fair hearing. He argues that even if people were powerless to prevent the entry of Wal-Mart into a locality, they could nonetheless choose not to shop there, and the WM would have to close down, and that they therefore do have power.

But in fact, this could be presented as a case of the Tragedy of the Commons and the inability to co-ordinate actions. It could be asserted that every single person in the community prefers to have the prettier shops, "unique sense of place" and all that Vermontiness, even if it means they pay higher prices and have lower-paying jobs. Once the Wal-Mart was there though, it would to each individual's rational advantage to shop there---after all, the prices are lower, and a single person withholding his or her purchases won't drive out the Wal-Mart and bring back the Vermontiness. The activists see themselves as providing co-ordination for the individuals so that they can co-operate in a positive-sum game and get rid of the Wal-Mart (or prevent it from showing up) and bring back the Vermontiness that everyone (every single individual!) likes better than the greater purchasing power.

So I don't think that the argument that the "people are powerless" is completely bogus, although it might be more accurately phrased as "people are disorganized".

I think it would be better to argue against anti-WM activists on other grounds: whether every single individual does prefer more Vermontiness to greater purchasing power; what to do when only some people benefit from Vermontiness, while others would benefit from lower prices and more jobs; whether people, even in the aggregate, actually do prefer Vermontiness to more purchasing power; whether Wal-Mart actually, and necessarily, destroys Vermontiness; whether a relatively small group of activists accurately represents the interests of the community.

Posted by gkanapathy at 1:43 PM

WM Endangers Vermont

The ENTIRE state of Vermont has been labeled "endangered" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation because WM plans to open 7 supercenters in the state. Before reading further, just think about it for a minute, because with this report, we have evidence of a clear divide in values at the margin, and must choose between status-quo economy and status-quo local culture.

Here's a news release, and an CNN/Money article. From the former:

During the 1990s Wal-Mart located three of its four Vermont stores in existing buildings and kept them relatively modest in size. Now, however, the world�s largest company is planning to saturate the state � which has only 600,000 residents � with seven new mammoth mega-stores, each with a minimum of 150,000 square feet. Theses potential new stores may be located in St. Albans, Morrisville, Newport/Derby, St. Johnsbury, Bennington, Rutland, and Middlebury. Wal-Mart�s plans are sure to attract an influx of other big-box retailers. The likely result: degradation of the Green Mountain State�s unique sense of place, economic disinvestment in historic downtowns, loss of locally-owned businesses, and an erosion of the sense of community that seems an inevitable by-product of big-box sprawl.
What I find amazing about the article is the necessary assumption of these activists that people are either powerless or dumb. Instead, I think it's clear that activists want to increase their own power over their opponents--not the power of people whose values differ from theirs.

On the one hand, WM is alleged to enter communities with promises of jobs and economic freedom (and otherwise really doesn't talk with activists), but actually destroys local economies, ecologies, and cultures. People shop there because its cheap, but they are actually hurting themselves.

On the other hand, to counter these ill effects, activists insist that Vermont communities (i.e. local government officials) should have far greater power over the placement and design of big-box stores--to turn mammoth into mom and pop--and should be able to block them if not deemed necessary.

The case seems airtight. Activists frame the debate as, "there's a problem coming--WM--and we're here to fight for you against it." They're very convincing, but to me there are two ways to look at this.

1) Without effective political coercion, WM will destroy people's higest values. (People are powerless)

2) The majority of people are dumb, and need to be protected from themselves. (People are dumb).

Activists usually argue in terms of 1, but sometimes resort to 2. I cannot accept the caretaker view of government, nor do I think people are powerless.

But lack of power in the people cannot be the activists real argument. If WM were hurtful to localities, and people were committed to communities but powerless to stop entry--not dumb--then any new supercenter would close down in short order, as people refused to shop there. The flourishing of harmful supercenters requires that people be dumb, not powerless.

Hence, that people lack power is not valid a reason to give local governments greater power.

Modeling or labelling people as either powerless is just a ploy to shift explicit power to government. Labelling people as dumb does not make their judgements about social change any less important.

But what if a WM supercenter doesn't really destroy communities, as the activists allege? (They don't actually name any devastated regions). What kinds of effects will greater local government powers have?

Greater government powers will preserve the status quo ecology and geography--what activists value--at the expense of the economy--what non-activists value.

There are tradeoffs here, and differing opinions between activists and non-activists about the values of the tradeoffs at the relevant margins.

Posted by Kevin at 12:38 PM

May 17, 2004

Columbia Political Review

The editor of the Columbia Political Review sends notice that the latest issue has an intruiging article on the politics of WM--Fearing Walmart--by Telis Demos:

So like most things that divide Americans geographically, shopping at Wal-Mart is an increasingly political matter. During the primaries, Democrats targeted the store in their critique of Republican economic policies, claiming that in the �Wal-Martizing� economy of the Bush years the only jobs that are surviving are low-wage, no-benefits, non-unionized service jobs. Taking the Democrats� lead, newspapers and magazines have turned their attention to chronicling the destructive economics of the super-retailer. By collecting tales of woe from store employees who are paid little and treated poorly, or from product suppliers who are squeezed out of business by Wal-Mart�s extreme demands, they have built the case that Wal-Mart stores are, as Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry put it, a symbol of �what�s wrong with America��outsourcing jobs to foreign sweatshops, paying minimum wage salaries without health care, refusing unionization, closing mom-and-pops in small towns, and subcontracting to affiliates that hire illegal immigrant workers.
I think the whole thing is worth reading--for the politics, not the economics.

In fact, I'm troubled by the economics of the article, not because it presents both sides of the debate, but that it judges the quality and truth of the arguments on the basis of political potency. Even though it rightfully declares, "most people don�t really consider the economics of Wal-Mart when forming an opinion of it," two sentences later it declares, "It could make for a potent political critique of our modern low-road, race-to-the-bottom economic culture." My problem is that no such culture exists--real wages keep rising.

It asks, "Which picture is true? Is Wal-Mart an employer of the otherwise unemployable and a provider of cheap goods to everyone else? Or is it an economic steamroller that�s bringing down the standard of living by putting every other option out of business?" But then cites the incendiary and shamefully venemous report put out by George Miller's staff and various other sources all with their own agendas. (Dispassionate social science they ain't).

The economic issue behind WM is fundamental. The US has consistently benefited from letting industries fail, move, and improve themselves out of existence. WM is just another data point in the pattern.

But don't let my carping stop you from this excellent summary of the issues.

Also, astonishingly, ALP is noted...

Disclosure: I'm CC '99

Posted by Kevin at 9:11 PM

May 12, 2004

The Other WM Blog

Stephen Greenhouse of The New York Times writes about Andrew Stern of the other WM blog, Fight for the Future. I found many--not all--of the other WM blog's posts to be a mix of propaganda, pep, and outrageous, unfounded allegations. And I probably wouldn't have written about them yet if the Times' Mr. Greenhouse hadn't chosen to highlight the blog as part of a wider movement:

Union leaders, academics and community activists plan to hold an unusual meeting in Washington today to begin mapping out a strategy to check Wal-Mart's growing power and to press the company to improve its wages and benefits.

The meeting was organized largely because union leaders fear that Wal-Mart Stores, the nation's largest company, is pushing down wages and benefits, not just among retailers but throughout the economy

Mr. Greenhouse, you can check out the actual effect of WM on wages by looking at wage data in retail and throughout the economy. Why didn't you bother? If real wages have gone down in retail, or other sectors of the economy, don't tell readers what some organization believes, tell us what really happened. This argument is not a political contest, a wr of opinion, or a popularity contest; it is an argument about something that can be verified.

I don't claim the last word on the subject, but according the the BLS, as WM has expanded throughout the nation, retail wages (pictured below)--not to mention wages in other industries--are increasing in real terms:

So much for the "ripple effect" of low wages. Here's an excel spreadsheet with the data and chart.

The article also closes with this flagrant error:

"Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the U.S.,'' Mr. Wilhelm said. "It's incredibly pervasive in its race-to-the-bottom influence.''
Give me a break. How many times must I debunk this? Did Mr. Greenhouse even bother to check this one out? The federal government by far is the largest employer in the U.S. (the military itself being larger than WM, and the federal government about 15x larger than WM), although WM is the largest private employer in the U.S..

Posted by Kevin at 9:01 AM

May 9, 2004

Anti-WM Activists won't Compromise

Activists have recently claimed that WM's failure in Inglewood wouldn't have been necessary if it would only compromise with their demands. One editorial writer sees it in reverse--it's activists who are the obstructionists and non-compromisers:

It's becoming increasingly clear, however, that no matter how carefully or extensively city officials examined this issue, Wal-Mart's opponents would not accept approval of a new store.

The premise of this lawsuit is the City Commission rezoned the property without properly investigating the impact the development would have on the community. Wal-Mart foes called for economic- and traffic-impact studies.

It is reasonable to assume that both the city planning commission and the city commissioners are capable of making such decisions with or without these investigations.

No one doubts a Wal-Mart store would change the landscape. The question is whether that change ultimately is beneficial to Marine City.

The battle over a Marine Wal-Mart store is part of a greater war. Wal-Mart's expansion plans in California and Chicago have organized opposition with pretty much the same arguments raised in Marine City: The store offers low-paying jobs, it will harm local businesses and residential property values.

There is one twist: William Watch, president of First Commercial Realty and Development Co., which owns the Kmart plaza on M-29, submitted written testimony in the lawsuit. Watch stated that even if Wal-Mart gets all the retail business possible in Marine City, the store still would be $12 million short of making a profit. He said the worst case would be that the Kmart store is driven out of business, but Wal-Mart eventually closes, too.

With all due respect to Watch, Wal-Mart is the nation's leading retailer. It is hard to believe its officials would enter into a losing proposition.

The truth is some folks don't want to see a new Wal-Mart store under any circumstances. It's regrettable Marine City is being drawn into that war.

The economic sense (and commonsense) of this editorial writer shocked me.

Posted by Kevin at 7:26 PM