Walmart Expanding at Our Expense

“If I think too much about all of those Chinese factories where all the stuff in a Wal-Mart is made, I get that woozy feeling you get when you see ducks covered in crude oil.”
Douglas Coupland

 

On June 23, two chartered buses were parked in front of City Hall in downtown Fresno. Inside City Hall, the Fresno City Council was hearing public input on whether it should approve the expansion of a Walmart store on East Kings Canyon Road.

Walmart would have you believe that a group of low-income people were so motivated by Walmart’s Kings Canyon expansion plans that they chartered two top-of-the-line buses to travel from southeast Fresno to downtown Fresno and spend the better part of the day attending a City Council meeting.

Strangely, these “enthusiastic supporters” were not at the meeting to speak. They were just there for show. Walmart bused them in and probably paid them to sit there as well.

The City Council took two votes related to the expansion. The first vote was to deny Walmart the conditional use permit it needed to proceed. This vote failed 4-2. Council Members Sal Quintero and Blong Xiong voted for the motion. (Council Member Lee Brand had recused himself because of a possible conflict of interest.)

The second vote was to approve the expansion, and that passed 5-1. Only Quintero opposed the expansion.

Just two months earlier, the City Council of Kerman approved the new construction of a 24-hour Walmart.

Next on the agenda for the ever-aggressive Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., is the store expansion and extension of hours at the Pinedale Walmart. Nearby residents are opposed to the expansion but have had difficulty getting accurate information about Walmart’s legal requirements and the times and dates of public hearings.

Aside from the obvious community-related problems of any big-box store being built or expanded—such issues as increases in traffic, crime, litter, graffiti, noise and shopping carts strewn throughout the neighborhood—Walmart brings an additional layer of problems with a national track record of treating employees poorly and decimating the commercial infrastructure of communities.

The public interest group Walmart Watch (walmartwatch.org) provides a comprehensive analysis of the effects of Walmart on American communities. These concerns, summarized from the group’s Web site, include the following:

Wages. According to IBISWorld, an independent market research group, an average sales associate at Walmart makes $8.81 per hour for an annual salary of $15,576 (given Walmart’s designation of full-time as 34 hours per week).

Healthcare. Because of low wages, Walmart employees are often eligible for state-financed healthcare programs. In fact, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union claims that Walmart’s actions shift $1 billion of costs onto other employers and taxpayers.

Working conditions. Walmart has settled many lawsuits alleging violations of employment law but recently got a reprieve when the Supreme Court ruled in its favor in the nation’s largest sex-discrimination case.

Benefits. Benefits at Walmart stores are inferior to those offered in unionized grocery stores, and in many cases Walmart employees cannot afford to take advantage of the watered-down benefits that are available.

Impact on other businesses. With a business model that focuses on low wages, highly efficient transportation and imported products, “Walmart has a history of destroying once thriving downtowns across rural America.” With the rural market now mature, Walmart is increasingly focused on urban communities.

Environmental record. Like many corporations, Walmart has begun to sell itself as environment-friendly. However, the company’s big-box stores, abandoned old properties and largely imported inventory leave a substantial carbon imprint.

Corporate responsibility. As the largest retailer in the country, Walmart is in the enviable position of setting industry standards in many areas including wages, benefits and corporate responsibility. Unfortunately, this position of influence has effectively resulted in a race to the bottom for such standards.

Political power. Walmart has “a sophisticated and massive lobbying effort to influence policy makers at every level” of government.

Walmart has virtually unlimited resources at its disposal. And the company harbors no shame in busing poorly informed residents to meetings to create the sham of citizen participation. Or in obfuscating the accessibility of real public participation in the government’s review of its development decisions.

Meanwhile, those opposed to Walmart’s negative influence on our communities have been under-organized, underfunded and underrepresented. Learn more about the impact of Walmart on our communities. Join your neighbors in stopping Walmart’s advance. And attend public hearings and City Council meetings to show our elected officials what real citizen participation looks like.

To assist with local efforts to challenge Walmart and inform the public about the many issues surrounding the opening and expansion of its stores, e-mail dsavory@myunionworks.com.

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