Economy & Budget

Labor Activists Target Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest retailer. It offers a wide variety of products at low prices, and employs more people than any competitor. Which makes it a target of organized labor.

Against it AFL-CIO president John Sweeney has promised "the largest organizing campaign that any union has undertaken in the history of our country." The Union of Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), an AFL-CIO affiliate, called November 21, the "Wal-Mart Day of Action" as part of its "People’s Campaign for Justice at Wal-Mart."

Actually, UFCW doesn’t want justice for people. It represents supermarket workers who fear the lower-cost, non-union retailer. The union wants Americans to pay more for less.

For instance, UFCW recently browbeat the city council of Inglewood (a Los Angeles suburb) into banning superstores, which offer more than 20,000 nontaxable items, a nonsensical rule that affects only Wal-Mart. Union officials were refreshingly honest that their goal was to protect their higher-cost employers.

While UFCW ruthlessly plays the political game, amassing a $3-million fund to fight Wal-Mart’s expansion in southern California alone, it criticizes the firm for fighting back. The company "barges into communities that do not want them by manipulating municipal officials and legal systems," complains UFCW.

But the union is spending so much money to manipulate local politicians precisely because communities want Wal-Mart to come. Otherwise, no one would work or shop at Wal-Mart.

First, Wal-Mart creates new jobs, which are especially valuable for people with limited opportunities. The company is building 180 new stores this year alone. It employs more than one million people nationwide.

Second, Wal-Mart offers consumers a wide variety of goods at low prices at a single location, with a national network to back up its products. It puts customers first.

Still, the union offers a lengthy bill of particulars. It says workers should be paid more. Of course, that’s what labor negotiation is all about: Wal-Mart’s workers deserve whatever they can get.

And, in fact, Wal-Mart offers competitive wages, profit-sharing, incentive-bonuses, and flexible hours. It provides health insurance even to part-time workers. That’s true economic justice, presumably why Wal-Mart’s own employees rate it among Fortune Magazine’s top 100 companies for which to work.

UFCW also denounces the company for alleged discrimination. The company occasionally has been sued by disgruntled workers-no surprise-given today’s litigious atmosphere.

Indeed, the union has its own legal problems. Local 1096 in Salinas, California faces a class action lawsuit from workers alleging that it has failed to preserve their rights.

The UFCW also complains that the company has "no nondiscrimination policy for sexual orientation or gender identity" and offers "no health insurance for a same sex partner." But there’s no evidence that Wal-Mart victimizes the transgendered and most companies don’t cover gay partners.

Michael Leonard, UFCW international vice president, charges that most of Wal-Mart’s "manufacturing is done in China, where there’s forced labor, prison labor and suppression of religious freedoms." The fact that the Chinese government is bad news doesn’t mean that Chinese companies are bad news, however.

Private firms pay their workers more than do Communist state enterprises. Indeed, the development of private companies outside of Communist Party control is perhaps the most powerful force for change in China.

Weirdly, UFCW also demands that Wal-Mart stop "pricing out small businesses." But the supermarkets that employ UFCW’s workers charge less than corner groceries. The union likes discounters, except the one which beats the discounters that employ its workers.

Finally, the UFCW demands that Wal-Mart "stop interfering with union organizing." But if the union is entitled to try to get workers to sign up, the company can try to persuade them to say no. UFCW wants a free ride, not justice.

The union’s anti-people agenda is clear. George Hartwell, Local 1036 (California’s Ventura County) president, declared: "This is war." Wal-Mart "declared it by saying they’ll build the 40 super Wal-Marts" in southern California.

But serving consumers is not an act of war.

In fact, out of more than 3200 Wal-Mart stores of various sorts across America, only 160 sit in California. It is the UFCW that has declared war-and not just on Californians, but on all Americans.

We should have another "Wal-Mart Day of Action." A day to celebrate an entrepreneurial company that offers consumers super value while creating jobs across America.


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