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Things Get Messy When Wal-Mart Workers Try to Get Organized
 

Wal-Mart Workers of the World Unite
Things Get Messy, When Wal-Mart
ĎAssociatesí Try To Get Organized

By Shana Abramovitz, Bruce Tompkins, and Sean Bennett


            Ever since Wal-Mart -the nations largest private employer- opened up their "unit" in Crumm Mountains Pomegranate Valley neighborhood, controversy has been a constant.  In fact the controversy began even before Wal-Mart arrived.  Hit hard by the Thompson Industrials plant closing, the city immediately began looking for ways to make up for the loss of jobs and economic activity.   Mayor Heather Ann Sagunarthy saw the potential for a quick fix when she learned that Wal-Mart was considering a Super center for Pomegranate Valley.   She, along with the Republican-dominated Common Council acted fast to guarantee a generous incentive package should the retail giant set up shop in the city.  When news of this broke, there was a huge outcry among labor activists, community development activists, and small business owners alike, who immediately began mobilizing a campaign to keep Wal-Mart from coming to the city.   Former Thompson employees were also quite dismayed to find out that they were going to be expected to work low-wage retail jobs, after having worked in a factory making up to twenty dollars an hour with union representation.
    In 1998 Stan Grossman was elected Mayor and wasted no time in choosing sides.    He pledged his support for the community activists as he explained that Wal-Mart was not the kind of economic development that he envisioned for Crumm Mountain.     Despite the arduous efforts of the Mayor and the activist community, the retail behemoth quite easily prevailed, because as we must remember, the Republicans still controlled the City Legislature, and the Mayor really wasn't able to have an impact.  Within months,  ground was broken, and by the summer of 1999 Wal-Mart of Pomegranate Valley held itís grand opening.   Despite requests from the companyís district manager Don Defeo, Mayor Grossman refused to attend.  City Common Council Members John McAllister, J Mattice, and Geoffrey Hatlee however, were in attendance.  Of course they had to be, they were on company time.     
    According to Victoria Batterninn of Concerned Citizen, from 1997 to April 1998 Wal-Mart funneled 37,000 dollars into the coffers of the Crumm Mountain Republican Party.   That may seem like a lot, and for Crumm Mountain politics, it is a lot, but it's chicken feed next to the money the company is saving on taxes, and the fines and fees that have been waived by the city.           
    Much has changed since then.   The Social Democracy Party has gained control of the Common Council, (with no help from Wal-Mart), Stan Grossman was re-elected to a second term by a decisive margin, and much of CMís city labor regulations have been progressively altered.     Mayor Grossman, saw an opportunity to win back some ground from the retail behemoth.   
    In late 1999 after the Social Democrats evened up party lines in the Council, they passed the Workforce Support Act of 1999.   The new law mandated among many other things, that employers make available full employer-paid health benefits to all employees immediate upon hiring them.  Well Wal-Mart has a somewhat less generous policy.  Associates at Wal-Mart arenít eligible for medical coverage until they work for the company for over 90 days.   Full time associates only.  Part time employees arenít eligible until after 2 full years of service to the company.  And Wal-Mart expects its employees to contribute a sizable chunk of their paychecks to pay for those benefits as well.   For HMO programs, Wal-Mart may pay around 80 percent of the cost, but when your only making about 200 dollars a week, that 20 percent of an ever-increasing HMO bill, can really kill you.  It amounts to about 75 dollars per pay period.   Now since Wal-Mart is one of the largest and most successful corporations in America, the city felt that they shouldnít have any problems picking up the rest of the tab.   Needless to say, Wal-Mart wasnít exactly thrilled about adjusting their policy, and didnít quite hop to it.   So Mayor Grossman, eager to push his newfound political weight around, requested City Attorney Aaron Gaglione file suit against Wal-Mart for noncompliance with the new law.  Wal-Mart backed down immediately, and agreed to update its benefits package to meet the requirements of the WSA.  However, they didnít do it with a big old happy face, and conservative backlash was steaming.   Pro-business attorney and newspaper columnist Adam Deemer called the law a "triumph of the Jackboot State".   Mark Lindsay of the Crumm Mountain Enterprise Institute called Stan Grossman an "obnoxious meddler, sticking his nose where it doesn't belong".    Common Council President Herb Hornstein (SD-Gordon Heights) applauds the Mayor, as "standing up for the people, against big business", and sayís that the Mayors critics are simply "showing loyalty to their corporate benefactors, as usual".   Wal-Mart, of course, was smart enough to distance themselves from the hot rhetoric for fear of alienating its largely working class associates and patrons.   Limiting its explanation of its concession to simple economics.   Comparatively citing the costs of a protracted court battle versus simply complying with the act, and updating its benefits package.  
    This round may have ended in a victory for Mayor Grossman and the labor activists, however, a rematch was fresh in the making, and this time Wal-Mart wasnít throwing in the towel.   Another provision of Workforce Support Act, called for a citywide increase in the minimum wage, from 5.15 an hour, the federal minimum, to 7.50 an hour.  None of Cm's businesses were exactly pleased as punch, but Wal-Mart was furious, and flat out refused to raise wages.  Aaron Gaglione again filed suit against the company on behalf of the city.  
    While Wal-Mart prepared to challenge the lawsuit in court, Wal-Mart District Manager Don Defeo issued a statement refusing to "back down". saying that "the mayoral administration has made a series of adversarial moves against the company.  So far we have lived with them, but we can not any longer.  And must set a citywide legal precedent whereby private companies determine the wages, suitable for the compensation of their associates."  
    Aaron Gaglione was quick to decry the companyís stinginess.  "A couple lousy dollars" wrote Gaglione in a statement to the press.  "Your telling me that Wal-Mart canĎt afford to pay their employees a few extra dollars an hour?  I donít care what you say.  Greed can not be that good".   Mayor Grossman defended the lawsuit saying that "putting profits over people will not be tolerated in Crumm Mountain.  Wal-Mart will raise itĎs wage, or face litigation".   The Mayors critics quickly pointed out that the costs of taking Wal-Mart to court would quickly outdistance the extra earnings Wal-Mart associates would make.  Common Council member David Baxter (R-Quinn Hill) suggested possibly giving Wal-Mart associates a direct subsidy to cover the difference between the new wage and what the company was actually willing to pay.  "It would be vastly cheaper then a court battle" assured Councilman Baxter in a Republican press conference.  But the Mayor wouldnít hear of it.  Said Mayor Grossman; "itís a matter of principle.  The taxpayers of Crumm Mountain shouldnít have to subsidize Wal-Marts greed."   
    As I write this, the issue is yet to be settled.  And Wal-Mart is yet to have complied with the wage raise.   Currently Wal-Mart workers are receiving a check from the government making up for the short paychecks.  But the Mayor insists that every pay period, the city is billing Bentonville for the expense.   If the city wins the upcoming court battle, Wal-Mart will have to make good on those bills, but if not, the city might end up eating them for breakfast.  
    Enter the UFCW.   In February of 2001, the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents workers in various food service related industryís, including supermarket workers, announced that it would be kicking off an organizing drive at the Crumm Mountain Wal-Mart after several workers contacted the union in November.    On account of the cityís progressive politics and it's long history of radical labor victories, everybody sayís they have good feelings about it.    Mayor Grossman has fully thrown his support behind the effort, in fact he showed up outside Wal-Mart to hand out union authorization cards, if enough of which are signed, Wal-Mart workers earn the right to a federally sanctioned union vote.   And that very prospect has Wal-Mart as mad as a wet hen.   In July 2001, District Manager Don Defeo announced the formation of a committee to oppose the union.  So far the committee has been meeting with associates one on one giving them all kinds of distorted information about unions.  According to unnamed sources in the store, several anti-union members of management sat down with one union supporter and were so aggressive with her that she left the meeting in tears.  "Theyíve embarked upon a massive misinformation campaign" explains Mayor Grossman.  "They're telling their employees things that simply aren't true, thinking that they don't have access to facts that contradict what they're being told".    That won't be the case if Mayor Grossman has anything to do with it.  The Mayor has formed an information committee that has set up a tent on city property directly adjacent to the Wal-Mart store.  The tent is staffed all day with union reps handing out literature, informing employees of their rights.   "If Wal-Mart truly respects it's associates", says Grossman, "they would want them to make a decision based on a balanced understanding of the issues, not just the distortions that their managers are shoving down their throats".    
    After making this bold move, Wal-Mart responded quite harshly.   This week the company terminated three of it's employees.    Supposedly, the termination's were based strictly on performance-related grounds, however all three associates were open union supporters, who believe they were fired because they supported the union.  They took their case to the city Labor Department which is considering an investigation into those firings, and may yet order their reinstatement and fine the company for labor law violations.     Under city law, firing an employee for supporting a union is punishable by up to 5,000 dollars in fines.    If that were to happen, there is a pretty good chance that the employees could take the company to court and sue.    
    In the wake of these firings several Wal-Mart associates say theyíve received harassing phone calls in the night, and others complain that their managers are trying to intimidate them, intimating that if they bring in a union, there will be management retaliation.  
    Recent events have local left wing journalistís rather easily invoking pinkertonesque union-buster imagery.   Crumm Mountain Community Radio journalist Josephine Nolesky cautions Wal-Mart associates to conceal their support of the union, because, under these tense circumstances, they might "disappear".    Bertha Hann, a left wing commentator, describes the companyís anti-union tactics as "vicious and heavy-handed".   But district manager Don Defeo say's its all "propaganda".   "Because of Wal-Marts success, it is a target.", Defeo insists.   Anti-union flyers claim that unions are only interested in workers for their dues.   And are motivated by their own greed.   But Herb Hornstein rebuts this rather easily by asking; "if Wal-Mart cares so passionately for the money their associates take home, why then did they fight so passionately against paying their associates an extra dollar and fifty cents an hour"?     "It borders on the surreal."  Say's Otis Humphrey, a progressive talk show host, on the lies and distortions being used by Wal-Mart to scare it's employees away from the UFCW.     
    Republicans around the city have been doing some fear mongering of their own as well.  Adam Deemer, in a column for The Evening Enterprise, entitled "Workers Should Think Before Signing Cards", he writes that "if Wal-Mart workers vote in a union, it will be the equivalent of voting themselves out of a job."  Here, Deemer is suggesting that Wal-Mart will vindictively close down an entire store simply to punish it's own workers.  Deemer sites a Wal-Mart meat department in Jacksonville, Texas that voted for a union.  The company responded, by shutting down not only that meat department but over a dozen others in the area.  Wal-Mart now orders its meat from outside sources.   Deemer implores Wal-Mart workers not to be tempted by the UFCW siren song of doubled wages, full medical coverage, and other benefits, because with unions" Deemer sayís "you seldom get what they bargain for". And that unions themselves are nothing but "predatory and parasitic organizations that are interested only in expanding their dues-paying rank and file, so that cigar-chomping union bosses can enrich themselves". Unfortunately the Evening Enterprise failed to print any columns or articles presenting another point of view.  That might have something to do with the politics of the papers owners.     
    Wal-Mart and it's reactionary lapdogs in the corporate-owned press can spin the facts all they want, but if workers earn the right to a federally sanctioned union vote, and vote in the union, all the PR in the world isnít going to make a difference.  Theyíre going to be forced by law to bargain with a union.  And as a result, associates may take home double or triple what they currently make, have access to less expensive and higher quality healthcare, and a plethora of added benefits that without a union, Wal-Mart workers could never even dream of.   
    At a recent BBQ for Wal-Mart associates, District Manager Don Defeo led the crowd in a rousing Wal-Martified version of an American classic.   "Weíre gonna roll the union back."    I think Mayor Grossman summed up the collective response of many in the city, when he said; "we're gonna roll these union-busting scabs and goons right back to Bentonville."  























































































 Ever since Wal Mart, the nations second largest employer opened up their "unit" in Chlymidia Mountainís Pomegranate Valley neighborhood, controversy has been a constant.  In fact the controversy began even before Wal-Mart arrived.  Hit hard by the Thompson Industrials plant closing, the city immediately began looking for ways to make up for the loss of jobs and economic activity.   Mayor Heather McCarthy saw the potential for a quick fix when she learned that Wal-Mart was considering a Supercenter for Pomegranate Valley.   She, along with the Republican-dominated City Legislature acted fast to garantee a generous incentive package should the retail giant set up shop in the city.  When news of this broke, there was a huge outcry among labor activists, community development activists, and small business owners alike, who immediately began mobilizing a campaign to keep Wal-Mart from coming to the city.   Former Thompson employees were also quite dismayed to find out that they were going to be expected to work low-wage retail jobs, after having worked in a factory making up to twenty dollars an hour with union representation.   
     In 1998 Stan Grouke was elected Mayor and wasted no time in choosing sides.   
He pledged his support for the community activists and explained that Wal-Mart was not the kind of economic development that he envisioned for Crumm Mountain.     Despite the ardous efforts of the Mayor and the activist community, the retail behemoth quite easily prevailed, because as we must remember, the Republicans still controlled the City Legislature, and the Mayor really wasn't able to have an impact.  Within months,  ground was broken, and by the summer of 1999 Wal Mart of Pomegranate Valley held itís grand opening.   Despite requests from the companyís district manager Don Defeo, Mayor Grouke refused to attend.  City Legislators John McCallister, J Mattice, and Geoffrey Hatlee however, were in attendance.  Of course they had to be, they were on company time.   According to Victoria Batterninn of Concerned Citizen, from 1997 to April 1998 Wal-Mart funneled 250,000 dollars into the coffers of the city Republican Party.   That may seem like a lot, and for Chlymidia Mountain politics, it is a lot, but it's chicken feed next to the money the company is saving on taxes and the fines and fees that have been waived by the government.      
     Much has changed since then.   The Democratic-Socialist Coalition has gained control of the City Legislature, (with no help from Wal-Mart), Stan Grouke was re-elected to a second term by a decisive margin, and much of CMís city labor regulations have been progressively altered.    This meant that the Mayor and the activists were ready to go another round with the company.    In late 1999 after the Democrats evenned up party lines in the Legislature, they passed the Mandatory Healthcare and Benefits Act of 1999.   The law mandated among many other things, that employers make available full health benefits to all employeeís immediate upon hiring them.     Well Wal-Mart has a somewhat less generous policy.  Associates at Wal-Mart arenít eligible for medical coverage until they work for the company for over 90 days.   Full time associates only.  Part time employees arenít eligible until after 2 full years of service to the company.  Needless to say, the company wasnít exactly excited about adjusting company policy to conform with the new regulations.    Eager to show that his administration meant business, when dealing with business,  Stan Grouke requested city attorney general Aaron Gaglione to file suit against Wal-Mart for noncompliance with the new law.  Wal-Mart conceded and agreed to update itís benefits package to meet the requirements of the MHBA.  However, they didnít do it with a big old happy face, and conservative backlash was immense.   Conservative attorney Adam Deemer called the law a "triumph of the jackboot state".   Mark Lindsay of the Chlymidia Mountain Enterprise Institute, called Stan Grouke a "dictator, sticking his nose where it doesn't belong".    Of course neither Deemer nor Lindsay have ever worked a day in their life at a minimum wage job without health insurance, and both are probably oblivious to the struggles of working families.  And according to City Legislature President Harvey Hooper (DS-Gomorrah Heights), "in order to spout such untempered rhetoric a degree of imperviousness to the struggle of others is necessary".   Of course Wal-Mart was smart enough to distance themselves from this untempered rhetoric for fear of alienating  itís largely working class associates and patrons.   Limiting itís explanation of itís concession to simple economics.   Comparatively citing the costs of a protracted court battle versus simply complying with the act, and updating itís benefits package.  
     This round may have ended in a victory for Mayor Grouke and the labor activists, however, a rematch was fresh in the making,  and this time Wal-Mart wasnít throwing in the towel.   During the summer of 1999, Dictator/Mayor Grouke using the power of the jackboot state, increased the cityís minimum wage to 6.50 an hour.  None of CMís businesses were exactly pleased as punch, but Wal-Mart was furious, and flat out refused to raise wages.  Aaraon Gaglione again filed suit against the company on behalf of the city.  While Wal-Mart prepared to challenge the lawsuit in court, Wal-Mart District Manager Don Defeo said that "the mayoral administration has made a series of adversarial moves against the company.  So far we have lived with them. we can not any longer.  And must set a citywide legal precedent whereby private companies determine the wages, suitable for the compensation of their associates.  
     Aaron Gaglione was quick to decry the companies stinginess.  "50 lousy cents" wrote Gaglione in a statement to the press.  "Fifty cents, is what we're talking about here.  Greed can not be that good".   Mayor Grouke defended the lawsuit saying that "putting profits over people will not be tolerated in Chlymidia Mountain.  The company will comply with the law, or face legal penalties".   The Mayors critics quickly pointed out that the costs of taking Wal-Mart to court would quickly outdistance the extra earnings Wal-Mart associates would make.  City Legislator David Baxter (R-Quinn Hill) suggested possibly giving  Wal-Mart associates a direct subsidy to cover the difference between the new wage and what the company was actually willing to pay.  "It would be vastly cheaper" assured Leg. Baxter.  "No way Jose" said Mayor Grouke.  "Itís a matter of principle.  That money will come out of Wal-Martís treasury.     As I write this the issue is yet to be settled.  And Wal-Mart is yet to have complied with the wage raise.   Currently Wal-Mart workers are receiving a check from the government making up for the short paychecks.  The checks are enclosed with an apology and an explanation.  Chlymidia Mountain Treasury Commissioner Bart Runley is billing Wal-Mart for the expenses.   

     Whether or not Wal-Mart decides to comply with the 6.50 minimum wage will be irrelevant if the Union of Food and Commercial Workers is voted in.  This February, the UFCW, which represents workers in various food service related industryís, including supermarket workers has decided to target Wal-Marts, because of their incorporation of supermarkets into their retail capacity.  So far the union has focused mainly on Las Vegas area Wal-Martís, however the union seems to think that Wal-Marts Pomegranate Valley location would be prime for unionization.  Primarily because of the cityís progressive politics and it's long history of radical labor victories.   Mayor Grouke fully thrown his support behind the effort, in fact he showed up outside Wal-Mart to hand out union authorization cards, if enough of which are signed, Wal-Mart workers earn the right to a federally sanctioned union vote.   And that very prospect has Wal-Mart as mad as a wet hen.   In July 2001, District Manager Don Defeo announced the formation of a committee to oppose the effort.  So far the committee has been meeting with associates one on one giving them all kinds of distorted information about unions.  According to unnamed sources in the store, several anti-union members of management sat down with one union supporter and were so aggressive with her that she left the meeting in tears.  "Theyíve embarked upon a massive disinformation campaign" explains Mayor Grouke.  "They're telling their employees things that simply aren't true, thinking that they don't have access to facts that contradict what they're being told".    That won't be the case if Mayor Grouke has anything to do with it.  The Mayor has formed an information committee that has set up a tent on city property directly adjacent to the Wal-Mart store.  The tent is staffed all day with union reps handing out literature, informing employees of their rights.   "If Wal-Mart truly respects it's associates",  says Grouke, "they would want them to make a decision based on a balanced understanding of the issue, not just the distortions that their managers are shoving down their throats".    
     After making this bold move, Wal-Mart responded quite harshly.   This week the company terminated three of it's employees.    The walking papers were given on strictly performance-related grounds, however all three associates were vocal union supporters, who believe they were fired because they supported the union.  They took their case to the city Labor Department which is considering an investigation into those firings, and may yet order their reinstatement and fine the company for labor law violations.     Under city law, firing an employee for supporting a union, is punishable by up to 5,000 dollars in fines.    If that were to happen, there is a pretty good chance that the employees could take the company to court and sue.
     Recent events have local left wing journalists rather easily invoking pinkertonesque union-buster imagery.   Chlymidia Mountain Community Radio journalist Josephine Nolesky cautions Wal-Mart associates to conceal their support of the union, because they might "disappear".    Bertha Hann, a left wing commentator, describes the companies anti-union tactics as "vicious and heavy-handed".   But district manager Don Defeo say's it's all "propaganda".   "Why should our associates be forced to pay union dues for a union to do what they can do for themselves",  Defeo asks.   Anti-union flyers claim that unions are only interested in workers for their dues.   And are motivated by their own greed.   But City Legislature President Harvey Hooper (DS-Gomorrah Heights) rebuts this beautifully by asking; "if Wal-Mart cares so passionately for the money their associates take home, why then did they fight so passionately against paying their associates an extra fifty cents an hour"?     "It borders on the surreal."  Say's Otis Humphrey, a progressive talk show host, on the lies and distortions being used by Wal-Mart to scare it's employees away from the UFCW.    
     Republicans around the city have been doing some fearmongering of their own as well.  Adam Deemer, in a column for The Evenning Enterprise, entitled "Workers Should Think Before Signing Cards", he writes that "if Wal-Mart workers vote in a union, it will be the equivalent of voting themselves out of a job."  Here, Deemer is suggesting that Wal-Mart will vindictively close down an entire store simply to punish it's own workers.  Deemer sights a Wal-Mart meat department in Jacksonville, Texas, that voted for a union.  The company responded, by shutting down not only that meat department but over a dozen others in the area.   Deemer implores Wal-Mart workers not to be tempted by the UFCW siren song of doubled wages, free healthcare, and other benefits, because with unions Deemer say's "you seldom get what they bargain for", and that unions themselves are nothing but "predatory and parasitic organizations that are interested only in expanding their dues-paying rank and file, so that cigar-puffing union bosses can enrich themselves".    Unfortunuately the newspaper failed to print any columns or articles presenting another point of view.  That might have something to do with the politics of the papers owners.          
     Wal-Mart and it's reactionary lapdogs in the corporate-owned press can spin the facts all they want, but if workers earn the right to a federally sanctioned union vote, and vote in the union, all the PR in the world isnít going to make a difference.  Their going to be forced by law to bargain with a union.  As a result, associates may take home double or triple what they currently make, have access to less expensive and higher quality healthcare, and a plethora of added benefits that without a union, Wal-Mart workers could never even dream of.   And if Wal-Mart even thinks about shutting down the store to punish workers, they will be shamed and humiliated throughout the country for years to come.  It will bring about a backlash, the likes of which this country has never seen.  Boycotts and pickets will follow, and it may even result in the company losing more money, then if they were paying union wages and union benefits.  
     For too long, Wal-Mart has been Rolling Back as their motto say's, but here in Chlymidia Mountain, Wal-Mart workers are rolling in the other direction.