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 # 443  

December 2002




Organized Labor's Campaign Against Wal-Mart: No Altruism Here

 

by Amy Ridenour

 

A group calling itself People's Campaign for Justice at Wal-Mart -- no doubt armed with battering rams, maces and other 14th-century accoutrements of war -- is preparing to lay siege to some of the huge retailer's 3,200 stores around the country.

Sounds like a group of idealistic students faulting Wal-Mart for importing clothes made in developing nations. Or perhaps a band of animal rights activists concerned the company's low-cost vitamins were tested on endangered baboons.

Alas, nothing that altruistic or romantic. The People's Campaign for Justice at Wal-Mart -- aka PCJW-M -- is actually an auxiliary organization of the United Food and Commercial Workers, the nation's third largest union with nearly 1.4 million members.

And the issue, folks, is extortion, not altruism.

The United Food and Commercial Workers would like to double its size by adding Wal-Mart's 1.4 million employees to its rank-and-file. It's tried repeatedly to organize them in the past, but the overwhelming majority -- apparently as happy as Wal-Mart's friendly greeters -- repeatedly has turned their thumbs down.

So now the union -- with the strong backing of the AFL-CIO and a plethora of left-leaning allies such as NOW, Sprawl Busters and Bowling for Columbine's Michael Moore -- has launched what amounts to a full-fledged smear campaign against Wal-Mart.

Their intention: to pressure Wal-Mart's executives to force its workers to join the union against their own expressed wishes.

That's a good deal for United Food and Commercial Worker president Douglas H. Dority and the small platoon of UFCW officials who make six-figure salaries, but it's a raw deal for Wal-Mart workers and even worse for a lagging U.S. economy.

Wal-Mart's workers hardly fit the UFCW's broad-brush depiction as wretches from a Charles Dickens' sweatshop in mid-19th century London. Here are a few facts:

* Wal-Mart jobs offer competitive wages and benefits -- and then some. Wal-Mart's compensation compares favorably with unionized grocery workers with the same length of service. Its starting rate, in fact, is usually the same -- and in some cases, slightly higher -- than unionized grocery workers in the same market.

* More than 70 percent of Wal-Mart positions are full-time compared to less than 50 percent of the unionized grocery workers. That's also a far better ratio than chief rivals K-Mart, where roughly half the workforce is full time, and Target, where the ratio dips to 40 percent.

* Wal-Mart's health care benefits -- contrary to union claims -- are among the best in American industry. More than 75 percent of its associates are eligible to join its comprehensive medical insurance plans with Wal-Mart picking up two-thirds of the tab. Coverage includes life insurance, dental and both short-term and long-term disability, dependents and out-of-plan expenses.

* Wal-Mart's retirement benefits also are outstanding. Tax-deferred annual profit-sharing and 401 K retirement contributions are made with or without employee participation.

* And finally, Wal-Mart positions are definitely not dead-end jobs. Some two-thirds of the firm's management associates began their careers as hourly employees. And Wal-Mart provides training to constantly upgrade its employees' skills.

While none of us are ever totally happy at our jobs, Wal-Mart's associates appear to be among the most contented in the county. A Fortune Magazine survey, indeed, found that Wal-Mart's own employees rated it among the top 100 companies in terms of workplace satisfaction.

The sad truth is simply that the UFCW has singled out Wal-Mart because it is one of the most successful companies in the world -- creating more new jobs each year than any other company. This year alone, Wal-Mart has built some 180 new stores, discount clubs and distribution centers across the USA -- bringing new construction and retail jobs to virtually every state in the union.

In a free-market democracy like America, citizens get to cast daily ballots on their individual preferences. Customers flock to Wal-Mart because they like its wide variety of goods and services and its low prices. Potential employees, obviously, seek jobs at Wal-Mart because they consider it a good place to work.

The UFCW's true motives are best revealed by the remarks of George Hartwell, president of its Local 1036 in California, who compared his union's latest campaign against Wal-Mart to warfare.

"This is war," Hartwell said. "Wal-Mart declared it by saying they'll build 40 super Wal-Marts in Southern California."

Odd reasoning, eh? Wal-Mart certainly wouldn't be investing hundreds of million of dollars in Southern California if it wasn't convinced those stores would soon be bustling with paying customers.

One has the feeling that the UFCW's shock troops are about to land on an unoccupied beachhead -- fighting a war that Wal-Mart's employees and customers -- and most other Americans -- are simply going to ignore.

Maybe it's time for the union to stop playing the bully and wasting its members' dues by launching ideological blitzkriegs against the successful. Maybe it's time to allow truly participatory democracy to have its way.

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Amy Ridenour is President of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

 


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