Wal-Mart Wants Your Job

Low Wages, Union Busting, and a Big, Friendly Smile

| March 25, 2004

South St. Paul's labor activists' smiles are turning upside down, with the announcement of a new Wal-Mart opening up in St. Paul's Midway Shopping Center. The store will be the first manifestation of the mammoth chain in the Twin Cities, and will start peddling its wares come May, despite the protests of local union members pointing posters towards passersby that ask, 'What Cost to Neighborhoods?'

What beef could resisters have with the retailing empire, its All-American image radiating from packed shelves of toothpaste, dog food, and ammunition? Unlike the meat that unionophobic Wal-mart resorted to once its meat-cutters began to organize, the protesters' beef is not pre-packaged. They wave signs in defense of the employee wages and benefits that will be lost once Wal-Mart business practices force local retailers to lower the bar on prices, and therefore on employee benefits. To uphold its smiley-faced promise of bottom-line prices, Wal-Mart 'is driving manufacturers to open plants overseas and causing competing retailers to cut employee wages and benefits.' For instance, Minnesota-based Target Corporation, in relentless pursuit of prices that would mimic Wal-Mart's, recently eliminated paid vacation and health care coverage for employees who work less than 20 hours a week.

But poor labor conditions make up only one of the many tolls taken by Wal-Mart's promise of the lowest prices available. The company has recently been confronted by dozens of complaints of sexual discrimination. According to figures compiled by WalMart, 72 percent of the company's employees are female, while two-thirds of management positions are held by males. Female employees make an average of 34 cents less per hour for doing identical jobs. And that's not to mention the 250 illegal immigrants federal agents found in Wal-Mart stores last October, working for as little as $2 a day.

So, what is Wal-Mart's smirking symbol smiling about? Well, good bargains. But as Stacy Mitchell, researcher for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance comments, 'There is a tremendous price we pay for every penny we spend at Wal-Mart.'
-- Andi McDaniel

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