TrenchNews, Verse 11


NYT: 7 Unions Ask NLRB to Go Back to Rule Allowing Unions to Bargain Without a Majority of Employees

Back in the 30’s when employers were fighting unions with private armies and using local police forces as strikebreakers, FDR’s National Labor Relations Board allowed – even encouraged and occasionally demanded – employers bargain with unions even though the unions did not yet represent a majority of the company’s workforce.

Today, the methods of intimidation used by employers to prevent unions from organizing employees are less violent and more sophisticated but just as immoral, and seven unions have together decided that it’s time The NLRB went back to the old rules – which are still in force.

Seven labor unions asked the National Labor Relations Board yesterday to order employers to bargain with unions, even when the unions represent only a minority of employees.

This would be a sharp departure from current practices, in which employers are required to bargain with a union only after it shows that a majority of employees at a workplace support it.

The unions hope that such a change will make it easier to unionize workers. Today, 7.4 percent of private-sector workers belong to unions, less than a fourth of the rate in the 1950s.

The unions involved in the bid, including the United Steelworkers and the United Auto Workers, say the labor board should return to a largely forgotten practice, prevalent in the 1930s, in which companies often bargained with unions representing only a minority of workers who had joined them.

“This is what the text of the National Labor Relations Act requires, and there are no decisions to the contrary,” said Charles J. Morris, an emeritus professor of labor law at Southern Methodist University and the foremost champion of this notion.

Union officials acknowledged that the labor board, currently dominated by appointees of President Bush, would probably not adopt a rule so favorable to unions. But union officials said they were petitioning now in the hope that there will be a Democratic president someday who will appoint a board that will look favorably upon their argument.

A pro-labor Labor Board – now there’s a radical idea.

Continue reading

Wal-Mart Awards Employee Bonuses for the First Time in 20 Years

Put this in the category “Miracle of Miracles”: Wal-Mart is finally, after 20 years, giving its workers a bonus.

Wal-Mart, Georgia’s largest private employer, made its annual bonus for store employees public for the first time in two decades Thursday, saying that about 80 percent of hourly workers will split more than a half-billion dollars.

The company has about 54,000 workers in Georgia, although their stores must meet targets for them to qualify for bonuses.

Based on the numbers Wal-Mart released, the mathematical average payment would be $651 per worker but Wal-Mart said the individual amounts varied. It declined to provide a range or the specific level of payments, citing competition with other employers.

Continue reading

Wal-Mart: The Great Satan Turns…Philanthropist?

Alright. It’s early in the morning and I’m awake after only three hours sleep and I can barely get my eyes open and I see…this.

Wal-Mart looks to aid ailing areas
9 new stores planned to boost neighborhoods

Naturally, I think I’m dreaming. Naturally, I think I must have read it wrong. I look at it again. No, it still says the same thing. I rub my eyes. Blink. Get up and make coffee. Drink some. Shake myself a little more awake. Come back.

No. I didn’t imagine it. It hasn’t changed. Continue reading

Wal-Mart (ahem) Expands? (Updated)

If this isn’t the be-all, end-all, last-word killer argument for finally dumping deregulation, I don’t know what is: Wal-Mart wants to become *cough* a bank.

The federal agency that insures bank deposits is expected to decide this week whether Wal-Mart Stores can move ahead with its plan to open a bank.

Wal-Mart critics want the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s board, which meets Wednesday, to deny the retailer’s application for a type of bank known as an industrial loan company, or ILC. Continue reading

Wal-Mart’s Phony Health Care

An internal study by Wal-Mart released today says that almost half of its employees don’t use the health care plan they offer.


This requires some explanation of exactly what they offer – or, more accurately, don’t offer – along with a little translating of Wal-Mart’s spokeswoman’s, um, analysis.

About 90 percent of Wal-Mart employees have health-care coverage, but 43 percent do not get it from the mammoth retailer, relying instead on benefits from a spouse, federal programs or even their parents, according to an internal survey the company made public yesterday.Wal-Mart employs more than 1.3 million people in the United States, making it one of the country’s largest employers. The company surveyed more than 200,000 workers during the fall open-enrollment period for health benefits, the retailer’s first effort to capture such data as it faces criticism from labor unions that accuse it of paying low wages and skimping on health benefits.

According to the report, 22 percent of employees receive health benefits under a spouse’s plan. Nearly 5 percent are on Medicare. Four percent are insured through their parents, school or college. About 2 percent are covered by Medicaid, and another 1 percent use an alternate state program.

The reasons for this are very simple: Wal-Mart’s health insurance plan is a joke. Continue reading

A Plan To Bring Wal-Mart To Heel

A discussion started by eRobin of Fact-esque in Comments to the post “Taxpayers Paying for Wal-Mart’s Low Wages” centered around her contention that WM was so paranoid about even the tiniest dip in their sales that a boycott aimed at forcing them to improve their mega-substandard wages and working conditions could prove effective.


I still say those rotten bastards are more nervous than they let on. June’s numbers stunk and they were panicked. (July’s are up again, which depressed and angered me) People start paying even a little bit of attention to WalMart’s myriad crimes and they start a HUGE PR campaign to bolster their image. I swear if we could organize a one day boycott and get it rolling to maybe a weekend a month for three months, they’d go crazy.

I was doubtful.

Have you ever worked for one of these guys? PR is what they do instead of fixing the problem. Look at their defenses: half-assed, cold, no sense of blatant hypocrisy. It’s company policy and that’s that. A boycott might get them to make some cosmetic changes but as soon as it was over and things quieted down they’d go back to what they were doing all along–until the next boycott.

eRobin stood her ground.

I’m hanging on to my memory, which may be flawed, of how desperately WM launched this latest PR campaign when faced with just a little bad press – they only ever get a little bad press. I feel like if we, and by we I mean “organized” labor – were able to get people to stay out of WM on a regular basis, the press would pick up on the battle and we’d be able to see what would happen from there.

It seems I should lay out my position–and my strategy–more fully, so here it is:

A boycott could be more than just a ‘catalyst’–it could be a major prong in a successful attack. My point is only that I have seen people concentrate on boycotts to the exclusion of every other tactic, and while that can be successful, it wouldn’t be with these guys. They’re hard-core. Their response to the bad press was to launch a PR campaign even as they denied the charges categorically. That’s going to continue to be their ‘solution’, and the more desperate they feel, the more money they’ll pump into that PR. It will take months if not years of boycotts before they finally admit the PR isn’t working and shift gears.

Here’s the strategy that I think would have a good chance of defeating them permanently and changing the way they do business:

A co-ordinated 3-pronged attack.

Prong One: A boycott that included (and might even be backed by) local businesses a) suffering because of Wal-Mart’s bargain-basement pricing structure and their tactic of taking losses to sell under cost until such time as they’ve wiped out the local competition, and b) struggling with their own labor force as they try to cut salaries in order to compete. Had the union in CA during their negotiations promised to mount an all-out effort to unionize WM or go under trying, the supermarket chains’ managements might very well have been more willing to bargain along sensible lines.

The boycott’s major functions would be to a) frighten WM with the potential of massive consumer backlash rooted in the local communities; and b) to attract the attention of the press. Boycotters should make a point of identifying local stores or chain stores in the area that are either unionized or just pay reasonable wages, and picket various WM’s with signs telling shoppers they have much better alternatives. The best places to do this are at new stores in areas where competition still exists, or when WM is trying to open a new site, as they are in NYC. Their strategy has been to either keep coming back to communities that tell them No until they’ve worn everybody down, or find a site a few miles away in a different town more receptive to their tax dollars. A prime advantage of the boycott would be its ability to follow them: continue to hassle them no matter how often they come back, go right down the road with them and bring the fight to the alternate locations as well. You can’t give them an out; a wide-ranging and flexible boycott could cut off that line of retreat–and that is critical.

Prong Two: As the boycotts attract media attention, a union with guts and some money (SIEU would be perfect) would start a national and very noisy campaign to unionize WM workers–all of them. Our media ignores unions for the most part (the supermaket strike was an exception), but the boycott would make that impossible, allowing the union to publicize WM’s illegal and fraudulent labor practices (the boycotters would be saying the same things, of course).

Prong Three: And most important of all, groups of consumer advocates, business leaders tired of WM’s shit (believe me, they exist), and–hopefully–lawyers, would beseige the various govt dept’s involved and politicians who have voted against labor rights with petition drives and picketing and publicity criticizing their decisions and calling for the Congress to act to protect workers’ rights. The experiences of the 9/11 FSC would be very instructive as a template for how to do this. The main thing is to force the Labor Dept and as many politicians as possible, whether pro or con, to go on the record. Even The Hammer could expect a vocal backlash if he supports WM against workers.

If you were smart about picking your targets, this could be done by a relatively small base group and a sizable force of part-timers with specific goals. It would cost money but I’m willing to bet that competitors like the CA supermarket chains would be willing to contribute once the boycotts started getting attention and the union(s) started going after them; and the union(s) would also need to be prepared to shell out some dough that isn’t strictly-speaking directly related to organizing. It all needs to be understood as a single campaign.

Anyway, that’s how I’d do it. Feel free to criticize.

Taxpayers Paying for Wal-Mart’s Low Wages

People who defend Wal-Mart’s and other low-wage employers say that at least they’re keeping down costs for consumers. Not if those consumers are taxpayers, they’re not. A new study shows what some of us have been saying for a while: Wal-Mart employees are so poorly paid that they still need state aid to get by.

By Abigail Goldman, LA Times Staff Writer

Inadequate wages and benefits force workers at Wal-Mart stores in California to seek $86 million a year in state aid, according to a report released Monday by the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

Moreover, if other retailers cut their wages and benefits to the levels offered by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the cost to California’s public-assistance programs would rise by $410 million annually, the study said.

In their report, Berkeley researchers Arindrajit Dube and Ken Jacobs contend that more than other retail workers, Wal-Mart employees rely on a variety of public-aid programs, including food stamps, Medicare and subsidized housing.

“In effect, Wal-Mart is shifting part of its labor costs onto the public,” the researchers wrote. “Wal-Mart’s long-term impact on compensation in the retail industry has the potential to place a significant strain on the state’s already heavily burdened social safety net.”

The public debate about whether Wal-Mart benefits or hurts local communities has grown considerably louder over the last few years, particularly in California, where some communities have opposed the company’s expansion plans.The company’s wage and benefit structure was also cited as a reason behind last year’s strike and lockout of unionized grocery workers in Southern California; the largest supermarket chains said they needed to revamp costs to compete with the retail giant.

Dube and Jacobs’ study took into account statewide data on wages paid by large retailers, the numbers of workers throughout the retail industry who use state assistance programs and information gleaned from lawsuits about Wal-Mart’s pay and benefits.

The report found that Wal-Mart’s wages on average were 31% below those of the broader group of large retailers — $9.70 an hour versus $14.01 an hour.And with less earning power, Wal-Mart workers rely more heavily on state resources, Dube and Jacobs found, costing the state $32 million in health-related expenses and $54 million in other assistance.

The study contends that the average non-management Wal-Mart employee receives $1,952 in public assistance compared with $1,401 for workers at large retailers in general.

“The disproportionate use by Wal-Mart workers of the various healthcare and social safety net programs, and the cost that that brings to the state, is an important consideration for policymakers,” Jacobs said in an interview.

Dube and Jacobs noted that other studies have reported similar findings.

In Georgia, a state survey of the state’s children’s health insurance program found that Wal-Mart employees’ families disproportionately relied on the program, accounting for more than 10,000 of the 166,000 children enrolled.

In Congress, a report by Democratic staffers on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce looked at employee eligibility for assistance programs and found that a typical 200-employee Wal-Mart store could cost federal taxpayers $420,750 a year, or more than $2,000 per employee.

Wal-Mart has disputed those findings. (emphasis added by me)

I just bet they have. You know what it means that Wal-Mart’s employees are even eligible for state aid? It means that Wal-Mart, one of the richest corporations in the country if not the world, is paying wages that are below the poverty line. And this is a corporation whose profits are so immense it could easily afford to double the salaries of every worker it’s got and give them decent health care benefit packages and still retain an extremely healthy bottom line. Their excuse for not doing it is a lulu.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, maintains that it pays competitive wages and relieves public assistance burdens by giving jobs to many people who otherwise would not be employed.

So if we’re even bothering to pay our workers at all, you should be grateful. It’s a bonus. Really, we’re doing you a favor. You should be happy we put these lazy, good-for-nothing welfare bums to work and got them off the dole–sort of, a little bit anyway. What, you want us to pay them a living wage, too? What are you, a Communist? You should be down on your knees thanking us, not hassling us because we demand they work one day a week for free or lock them in so they can’t goof off or kite some of their measly pay or fire them when they complain about how little they’re making, all that whiny shit about sick kids and they can’t pay the rent, that’s not our fault. We pay a competitive poverty wage, and if they can’t get by on $200 a week take-home when the lowest rent in the area is $700 a month, that’s their problem. This is a business, not a charity.

So listen up, all you pathetic taxpayers, you pay off because if you fuck with us, we’ll scoot these people right back onto welfare and then you’ll be paying all of it, not just 80%. So shut the fuck up. We’re Corporate America and we make the rules. Ask Georgie, he’ll tell you.

Wal-Mars Invades Earth

I rarely do this except with short newspaper editorials, but I’m going to reprint this Barbara Ehrenreich piece in full. I don’t think Barbara will mind. The NYT might but fuck ’em. I can’t bring myself to cut a single word.


Published: July 25, 2004

It’s torn cities apart from Inglewood to Chicago and engulfed the entire state of Vermont. Now the conflict’s gone national as a presidential campaign issue, with John Kerry hammering the megaretailer for its abysmally low wages and Dick Cheney praising it for its “spirit of enterprise, fair dealing and integrity.” This could be the central battle of the 21st century: Earth people versus the Wal-Martians.

No one knows exactly when the pod landed on our planet, but it seemed normal enough during its early years of gentle expansion. Almost too normal, if you thought about it, with those smiley faces and red-white-and-blue bunting, like the space invaders in a 1950’s sci-fi flick when they put on their human suits.

Then it began to grow. By 2000, measures of mere size – bigger than General Motors! richer than Switzerland! – no longer told the whole story. It’s the velocity of growth that you need to measure now: two new stores opening and $1 billion worth of U.S. real estate bought up every week; almost 600,000 American employees churned through in a year (that’s at a 44 percent turnover rate). My thumbnail calculation suggests that by the year 4004, every square inch of the United States will be covered by supercenters, so that the only place for new supercenters will be on top of existing ones.

Wal-Mart will be in trouble long before that, of course, because with everyone on the planet working for the company or its suppliers, hardly anyone will be able to shop there. Wal-Mart is frequently lauded for bringing consumerism to the masses, but more than half of its own “associates,” as the employees are euphemistically termed, cannot afford the company’s health insurance, never mind its Faded Glory jeans. With hourly wages declining throughout the economy, Wal-Mart – the nation’s largest employer – is already seeing its sales go soft.

In my own brief stint at the company in 2000, I worked with a woman for whom a $7 Wal-Mart polo shirt, of the kind we had been ordered to wear, was an impossible dream: It took us an hour to earn that much. Some stores encourage their employees to apply for food stamps and welfare; many take second jobs. Critics point out that Wal-Mart has consumed $1 billion in public subsidies, but that doesn’t count the government expenditures required to keep its associates alive. Apparently the Wal-Martians, before landing, failed to check on the biological requirements for human life.

But a creature afflicted with the appetite of a starved hyena doesn’t have time for niceties. Wal-Mart is facing class-action suits for sex discrimination and nonpayment for overtime work (meaning no payment at all), as well as accusations that employees have been locked into stores overnight, unable to get help even in medical emergencies. These are the kinds of conditions we associate with third world sweatshops, and in fact Wal-Mart fails at least five out of 10 criteria set by the Worker Rights Consortium, which monitors universities’ sources of logoed apparel – making it the world’s largest sweatshop.

Confronted with its crimes, the folks at the Bentonville headquarters whimper that the company has gotten too “decentralized” – meaning out of control – which has to be interpreted as a cry for help. But who is prepared to step forward and show Wal-Mart how to coexist with the people of its chosen planet? Certainly not the enablers, like George Will and National Review’s Jay Nordlinger, who smear the company’s critics as a “liberal intelligentsia” that favors Williams-Sonoma. (Disclosure: I prefer Costco, which pays decent wages, insures 90 percent of its employees and is reputedly run by native-born humans.)

No, Wal-Mart’s only hope lies with its ostensible opponents, like Madeline Janis-Aparicio, who led the successful fight against a new superstore in Inglewood, Calif. “The point is not to destroy them,” she told me, “but to make them accountable.” Similarly Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, will soon begin a national effort to “bring Wal-Mart up to standards we can live with.” He envisions a nationwide movement bringing together the unions, churches, community organizations and environmentalists who are already standing up to the company’s recklessly metastatic growth.

Earth to Wal-Mars, or wherever you come from: Live with us or go back to the mother ship.

Is Wal-Mart Getting Scared?

eRobin of Fact-esque posted a thought-provoking piece suggesting that Wal-Mart customers may be catching on to their unholy practices and shopping elsewhere.

Note: I hope she’ll forgive my stealing the whole post but I really couldn’t figure out a way to excerpt it without ruining her point.

If July’s Numbers Are Bad, WalMart Will Have a Theory Linked to Months With an “R” in Their Names.

I have a theory that the world’s largest retailer and Enemy of the People, WalMart, is scared to death that Americans will wake up to what a corrosive force it is in our economy. After just a little bit of press attention to their failures to get outlets in some major cities, partly due to the company’s medieval labor practices, WalMart began a publicity blitz that reeked of fear. (here and here) They were probably also anticipating the sexual discrimination suit to hit the papers as well.

Now their very disappointing June numbers are out. They are blaming the poor performance on cool weather and bad Father’s Day turnout. To be fair, I don’t love my dad as much when the temperature falls below 80. And that analysis makes as much sense as what WalMart has been saying.

In the beginning of June, before we experienced any unseasonable weather and America turned against our fathers, they blamed the calendar in advance:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, said yesterday that June sales would reach the low end of the expectation range of 4 to 6 percent higher than last year.


Walmart said that gains might be limited because the June period last year included July 4, when shoppers stock up on traditional holiday items like flags and hot dogs.

So now the sales growth numbers are out and they’re even worse than the low end of 4 to 6 percent. In fact, they’re twice as bad as that – essentially flat. From AOL news:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. lowered its forecast Monday for June sales growth at stores open at least a year to a range of 2 percent to 4 percent, citing cool weather and disappointing Father’s Day results.

The world’s largest retailer said Monday during its weekly sales update that key categories were flat this year as compared to last year, when it had its best week of the summer.

They’re terrified. If people threatened by WalMart’s economic power, anti-union policies and political reach could manage to organize a one-day boycott/Day of Education targeting Walmarts across the country, the company’s head would explode. Why can’t we (“organized” labor) get that done??

It’s a good question to which I don’t have a good answer, though I suspect the fact that ‘organized labor’ groups have their hands full just surviving may have something to do with it. Still, that’s no excuse. She’s right about this: Wal-Mart should have been a standard union target years ago.

There may be something to her theory. Wal-Mart is buying time on NPR (let’s face it, that’s what it is) to announce and promote their ‘philanthropic foundation’, a pure PR ploy. Why would they do that if their base doesn’t listen to it and they don’t care about the bad publicity? The Waltons have never been known for their ‘philanthropic’ urges before.

I can’t say I’ve seen any falling-off of business in the store where I live, but then Wal-Mart drove all the competition out years ago in this area and now they’re the only game in town, so probably I wouldn’t.

But consider this: Wal-Mart is a leader in the anti-worker war; it was fear of Wal-Mart that caused the supermarket strike in CA that John wrote about. If they got taken down, all the corporations that are looking at adopting Wal-Mart-style labor practices would be quaking in their boots and backing out the door.


Wal-Mart’s Big-City Plans Stall Again


Published: May 6, 2004, by the NY Timers

CHICAGO, May 5 — Less than a month after voters in Inglewood Calif., rejected Wal-Mart’s effort to build a store there, Wal-Mart was dealt another blow on Wednesday when the Chicago City Council postponed a vote on zoning changes that would have allowed it to open its first two stores here.

The setbacks in Chicago and Inglewood reflect the increasing difficulty Wal-Mart is facing as it tries to push in to more urban markets.

Most of Wal-Mart’s more than 3,500 stores in the United States are in rural and suburban areas. Chicago may be a major test of whether organized labor, which is relatively strong here, can block or obstruct the company’s plans to continue expanding in big cities.

“It would be nice to have seen the proposal go through and be voted on today,” said John Bisio, a Wal-Mart spokesman, “but this just gives us the opportunity to engage people and go back and dispel a lot of the misinformation that’s out there.”

The dispute has pitted some of the city’s most prominent politicians, clergymen and civic leaders against each other. Both sides brought busloads of people to City Hall for the council meeting, and there were boisterous demonstrations in the corridors and on nearby streets.

Supporters of Wal-Mart’s expansion plans here say the company offers both badly needed jobs and rock-bottom prices. They said they were disappointed by the council vote, but still expected it to approve the zoning changes at its next meeting on May 26. Individual aldermen are able to block a vote on such changes once, but under council rules a roll-call vote must be taken at the next meeting.

Opponents vowed, however, to intensify their campaign against the giant retailer, which they say crushes small businesses and lowers labor standards by paying low wages, offering minimal benefits and opposing efforts by its employees to unionize.

(Read more…)