Friday, July 28, 2006

Opposing Opinions: Facts vs Fiction

There are two 'guest editorials' printed in todays Adirondack Daily Enterprise (UPDATE: Links have now been added). Both are well written, but couldn't be more different. They are not different because they disagree on Wal-Mart locating to Saranac Lake.

One editorial is by Mr. Lee Keet, replying to a guest editorial written by Susan Seaward earlier in the week. Unlike Ms. Seaward, Mr. Keet uses facts and figures from specific sources to explain why he thinks Wal-Mart may not be in the best interest of Saranac Lake and the surrounding communities. Mr. Keet ends his editorial asking area residents to work together to bring a retail business that will be consistent with the character of our community.

The other editorial is by Mr. Donald G. Perryman. He points out that generations (natives) of 'adirondackers' have taken care of our environment and resources, not the 'tree huggers', 'preservationists' and 'do-gooders' (transplants). So we should trust their judgement in "managing and planning regarding the park". "The larger villages provide a kind of oasis in the wilderness where residents can acquire the goods and services that fulfil their needs". So it makes sense that any retailer that wants to locate here should be welcomed with open arms. If the experts say they need a 121,000 sq ft facility, that should be good enough for us. They are the experts you see. Welcoming Wal-Mart is an opportunity to 'revitalize' the Village of Saranac Lake. The local merchants will benefit from this. Mr. Perryman tells us what he 'thinks' will happen.

Do you see the difference between the two editorials? Fact vs wishes (maybe even fiction), certainly facts vs 'what I think' or, in the case of Ms. Seaward, what Wal-Mart tells me.

This is the basis of the debate about Wal-Mart locating to Saranac Lake. At least 60% of village residents are concerned about the possible effects of a large Wal-Mart on our community. They have read articles, reports etc that justifies their concerns.

On the other side, Wal-Mart supporters want a cheap, one-stop place to shop period. They don't really care about the possible effects of a super retailer on our community. But they can't just come out and say that. So they come up with 'soundbites' based on 'what they think', truthiness or wishful thinking.

Let's see some facts, independent of Wal-Mart, that show how Wal-Mart will be good for Saranac Lake. That's what 3/5's of the Village Board want also.

SAGA Opens Informational Storefront

Announcement from SAGA.
Store Front Opens
On Tuesday July 25, 2006, SAGA unveiled its new downtown Saranac Lake storefront located at 29 Broadway. SAGA's intent is to use the location, window space and a small portion of the interior as an "information center" promoting appropriate retail development, continuing efforts to establish a size cap for retail spaces, and furthering its education campaign as to the impacts of inappropriately sized big-box retailers in the Saranac Lake area.

Information will be posted on the storefront window and there will be an effort to staff the space on a limited basis, depending on available volunteer help. It should be noted that SAGA is paying rent for this space and that it is supported by local dollars - not some multi-billion dollar mega-corporation from someplace like Arkansas.

There is an effort on the part of Wal-Mart and its supporters to influence the community with inaccurate, misleading, and deceiving "information." Wal-Mart has ramped up its PR campaign, perpetuating myths that are not grounded in any reality. They have found some local folks to believe them and even repeat them. The storefront will be focused on giving accurate information about the impacts (positive and negative) of different sized retailers on the community of Saranac Lake.

Although SAGA is not specifically opposed to Wal-Mart, we are very critical of its oversized proposal and the damaging effect it will have on Saranac Lake. We make it no secret that if they size a store appropriately, we will not oppose Wal-Mart. However, Wal-Mart and representatives of the local Wal-Mart support group, CARD, have shown no interest in discussing a reasonably sized store - they make it clear that they only support a 121,000-sq-ft Wal-Mart Super Center. We have seen no desire on their part to compromise.
Residents concerned about out-of-scale retail development in Saranac Lake are willing to put their time/money where their mouth is. Homemade signs, informational storefronts, organizations, community store development etc., they don't need the support of the largest corporation on earth to get their message out there.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Fair Labor Practices - USA vs Canada

I have mixed feelings about the need for Unions, however, I also understand why and how they evolved in the USA. It was because of companies like Wal-Mart. Employees shouldn't have to 'organize', they should be treated with respect by employers.

Unions and Wal-Mart in the USA
There’s little secret to Wal-Mart’s success. The company will simply do whatever it takes to keep workers from organizing. “Staying union free is a full-time commitment,” reads one of the company’s training manuals. “[F]rom the Chairperson of the ‘Board’ down to the front-line manager … [t]he entire management staff should fully comprehend and appreciate exactly what is expected of their individual efforts to meet the union free objective.”
Read more here.

Unions and Wal-Mart in Canada
The Canadian legal system does not play Wal-Mart's game, if the company now thought they would. In two recent court decisions, the retail giant has been mercilessly exposed for its repressive and anti-social behaviour. Workers that were fired in Jonquière, Quebec, for their union activities, have to be compensated. In a Saskatchewan court, Wal-Mart's efforts to disqualify the Labour Relations Board from dealing with unionisation issues in Wal-Mart ran on ground.
More here.

Wal-Mart and Small Town Voter Influence

Wal-Mart has been fined for "failure to register with the Monroe city clerk before a 2005 referendum on so-called big box stores, in violation of state campaign finance law." Also, here.

The civil forfeiture action alleged that Wal-Mart spent money on ads, a mass mailing and a public relations company to encourage "yes" votes on the referendum.
The question on the non-binding referendum was "Are you in favor of the City of Monroe allowing the construction of a very large retail supercenter store?" Wal-Mart was not mentioned.

Unfortunately, the fine was a miniscule $753. Monroe, WI voters were smart enough to ignore the illegal Wal-Mart campaign.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Chicago Approves Living Wage Ordinance

The City of Chicago passed an ordinance, 35-14, which requires mega-retailers with sales over one billion dollars and stores with greater than 90,000 sq ft to pay workers at least $10/hr plus $3 in benefits.
"It's trying to get the largest companies in America to pay decent wages," said Alderman Toni Preckwinkle.

Saranac Lake should do the same.

Nowata, Oklahoma and Wal-Mart

A small town of 4,000 people who were delighted when Wal-Mart opened a store in 1982. Within three years of Wal-Mart's opening, 18 existing businesses closed their doors.

But that isn't the bad news. In 1994 Wal-Mart closed the Nowata store to move into a supercenter 25 miles away.
(Shipley) said when Wal-Mart left, the downtown was literally boarded up and the citizens were left without local options for shopping other than driving 25 miles away to the Supercenter.
“The question you need to ask Wal-Mart is ‘How long do you intend to stay?’” said Shipley.

“I think I am up here to show how Wal-Mart devastated Nowata when it left,” she said. “Actually it devastated when it came in. Within 1 1/2 years, half the businesses [of the 18] were closed; within three years they were all closed.”

“I can tell you this, they had no sympathy for our town for the citizens who lived there,” she said.
More Here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Summary of Local Wal-Mart Issue

Chris Knight, news director of WNBZ radio, gives a summary of where we stand with the local Wal-Mart controversy HERE at North Country Public Radio (Speakers required).

The Wal-Mart Debate: A False Choice Between Prices and Wages

On the left side of this blog is a link to a technical article called "Wrestling With Wal-Mart: Tradeoffs Between Profits, Prices and Wages".

There is now a more readable summary of this paper called The Wal-Mart Debate: A False Choice Between Prices and Wages. You can read it HERE.

The Case for Breaking Up Wal-Mart

The article, by Barry Lynn, published in Harpers Magazine a few weeks ago is not available at AlterNet. Click HERE to read it.
The stakes could not be higher. In systems where oligopolies rule unchecked by the state, competition itself is transformed from a free-for-all into a kind of private-property right, a license to the powerful to fence off entire marketplaces, there to pit supplier against supplier, community against community, and worker against worker, for their own private gain. When oligopolies rule unchecked by the state, what is perverted is the free market itself, and our freedom as individuals within the economy and ultimately within our political system as well.
It's too bad people couldn't understand this concept. But many are too busy consuming to be good citizens.
But the issue before us is not how Wal-Mart grew to scale but how Wal-Mart uses its power today and will use it tomorrow. The problem is that Wal-Mart, like other monopsonists, does not participate in the market so much as use its power to micromanage the market, carefully coordinating the actions of thousands of firms from a position above the market.
How is this a free market when Wal-Mart has such power over it's suppliers and politicians? Oh, but it is a free market you say? Read the article!
Wal-Mart and a growing number of today's dominant firms, by contrast, are programmed to cut cost faster than price, to slow the introduction of new technologies and techniques, to dictate downward the wages and profits of the millions of people and smaller firms who make and grow what they sell, to break down entire lines of production in the name of efficiency. The effects of this change are clear: We see them in the collapsing profit margins of the firms caught in Wal-Mart's system. We see them in the fact that of Wal-Mart's top ten suppliers in 1994, four have sought bankruptcy protection.

Behind the Greeting

An article in the St. Petersburg Times by SAUNDRA AMRHEIN:

During her lunch hour, Ellen Stanton walks stiffly back through aisles of discount clothes and frozen foods.
She wobbles into the employee break room on the artificial knee that makes her leg throb, on the foot rendered painful from diabetes.

She sits down and takes off her shoes. Hours on her feet greeting Wal-Mart shoppers take their toll.

Stanton worked almost her whole life, but she never thought she'd be working this long, at the age of 74.
Click on the link and read it.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Wal-Mart, Nuns, Civil Rights Activists and PaidCritics is proud of the latest great business move (read P.R. move) by Wal-Mart. The idiots actually point to this article which they think reflects well on Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart hired an ex-nun, Harriet Hentges, to be their liaison with nonprofit and academic groups and with government agencies dealing with the environment. Some time ago they hired Andrew Young, ex-mayor of Atlanta and owner of Goodworks International, to head a group formed to spread the word about the positive contributions of Wal-Mart Stores. What Wal-Mart don't seem to get is that real change is what will help Wal-Mart's image, not hiring ex-nuns and ex-civil rights workers to help with P.R.

Detroit news Eitorial writer Manny Lopez thinks this is really great for Wal-Mart and paidcritics wants you to read this column. Manny doesn't get it either.
Really Wal-Mart's newest blue-vesters are only the most recent of the company's brilliant business moves.
Manny, I doubt the P.R. bigshots in Bentonville are required to wear the stupid blue vests, although I'm pretty sure some of the people at do wear them. Manny goes on to say:
I know, I know. Wal-Mart is supposedly the most evil company in America. Workers are abused and taken advantage of. Suppliers are nickeled and dimed to death. Mom-and-pop shops are put out of business. The horror of it all. It's awful, just, awful.
Manny goes on to point out that all this stuff is just the result of the 'free market', not Wal-Mart's fault. Manny doesn't even spend much time denying that Wal-Mart is evil.
Excluding the (rare) unfair work practices the company has been found guilty of, they've stayed a step ahead of the activists who despise the company's every move, mostly because they can't get their hands in Wal-Mart's pockets.
Manny conveniently forgets that Wal-Mart was sued about every two hours, 4851 times in the year 2000. There is even an entire website dedicated to class action suits against Wal-Mart.

And, even if Wal-Mart is evil it's only because Unions are equally evil says Manny.

When workers at a store in Canada approved representation, Wal-Mart closed the store. Are some of those things dirty? Perhaps, but no more so than the tactics the unions have used there and elsewhere.

Finally, Manny gives some good advice:
And quit shopping there if you worry for the so-called suffering, abused masses who have chosen to work there.
Don't worry Manny, several of us have taken your advice long ago and many more are joining. Why do you think Wal-Mart is investing so much in P.R.?

Andrew Young - Working Families for Wal-Mart Says:

For more than 40 years, Wal-Mart has carried out Sam Walton’s belief that people in rural, underserved communities should be able to buy the same things folks in the big cities were buying and at prices they could afford.
Yessireebob, us poor ole hayseeds need to buy them same store bought goods that the city slickers buy and we don't care if our store bought goods are junk as long as they are cheap.

Thanks Andy Young, you condescending idiot, I'm sure Martin Luther King would be proud of you.

Wal-Mart's P.R. War

Firing whistleblowers. Discriminating against women (and, most recently, black truck drivers ). Violating child labor laws. Locking workers into stores overnight. Mooching off taxpayers. Disregarding local zoning laws. Mistreating immigrant janitors. Abusing young Bangladeshi women. Paying poverty-level wages in the United States. Destroying small-town America. If you read any newspapers -- or even watch "The Daily Show" -- you can probably guess which company has been grabbing headlines for these and countless other charges and offenses.
Read the rest of this Liza Featherstone article HERE.

Sam says:

“You can’t create a team spirit when the situation is so one-sided, when management gets so much and workers get so little of the pie.” - Sam Walton
What would Sam say about the misleading $10.17/hr average wage that Wal-Mart claims to pay? Tell us what the median wage is please.

Yes, all Wal-Mart 'associates' are eligible for profit-sharing, health insurance, etc. Tell us the percentage of employees that actually qualify for these benefits.

It's sad that the largest most powerful corporation on the face of the earth deems it necessary to be so misleading to it's supporters.