CHAPTER 22                 Fighting Wal-Mart’s Low-Wage America                    SEIU Campaigns To Reform Anti-Union Ret...
160                                                                                      STRONGER TOGETHER: THE STORY OF S...
FIGHTING WAL-MART’S LOW-WAGE AMERICA                                                                                      ...
162                                                                                    STRONGER TOGETHER: THE STORY OF SEI...
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Chapter 22 fighting wal-mart's low-wage america - La bataille contre l'Amérique des salaires bas de Wal-Mart


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SEIU had begun focusing on the “Wal-Martization” of America shortly after a major strike by members of the United Food and Commercial Workers at grocery stores in southern California. Supermarket chains there claimed they had to lower their wages and benefits to compete with the nonunion, low-wage Wal-Mart stores.

SEIU a commencé à se concentrer sur la "Wal-Martisation" des Etats-Unis peu après une grève générale des membres du syndicat United Food and Commercial Workers dans des épiceries du sud de la Californie. Ces chaînes de supermarché expliquaient qu'elles devaient baisser les salaires ainsi que les avantages pour concurrencer avec les magasins non-syndiqués et mal-payés de Wal-Mart.

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Chapter 22 fighting wal-mart's low-wage america - La bataille contre l'Amérique des salaires bas de Wal-Mart

  1. 1. CHAPTER 22 Fighting Wal-Mart’s Low-Wage America SEIU Campaigns To Reform Anti-Union RetailerW ithout much fanfare, the huge power of Wal-Mart be- gan to remake the American economy in the rst yearsof the 21st century. lower pay and bene ts everywhere,” Stern told the delegates. “I will ask you to make a $1 million investment of your money to start up a new network of workers and communities to bring Wal-Mart’s below-poverty wages drove down wages all Wal-Mart’s standards up, instead of having Wal-Mart bring ouraround its stores. Wal-Mart’s predatory business practices standards down.”pushed thousands of small businesses into bankruptcy. Wal- In the months that followed, SEIU convened small groupsMart’s purchasing practices resulted in huge American job loss- of experts and activists to discuss how best to bring reform toes as factories moved work to China. Wal-Mart’s erce anti- Wal-Mart’s worst corporate practices. SEIU sta and outsideunionism made a mockery of the right to organize. consultants sought to develop a campaign that would defend SEIU had begun focusing on the “Wal-Martization” of the broad interest American and Canadian workers had in forc-America shortly after a major strike by members of the United ing Wal-Mart to clean up its act.Food and Commercial Workers at grocery stores in southern With the debate occurring over the need to modernize theCalifornia. Supermarket chains there claimed they had to AFL-CIO, SEIU also made Wal-Mart an issue with a call forlower their wages and bene ts to compete with the nonunion, the labor federation to do more to go after the company. In-low-wage Wal-Mart stores. deed, the rst plank of the “Unite to Win” program pushed Fairly quickly, the Wal-Mart business model was spread- by AFL-CIO reformers talked about building new strength bying and, while it meant big pro ts for shareholders and execu- stopping the “Wal-Marting” of jobs.tives, workers faced the very real threat of being pushed into “ e Wal-Mart business model of providing low wagespoverty as the giant Arkansas-based employer rapidly expand- and few bene ts, shifting jobs overseas to exploit workers undered. In fact, Wal-Mart had become the world’s largest private- poverty conditions, and viciously opposing workers’ freedom tosector employer. form unions is setting a pattern that undermines good jobs for At the 2004 convention, SEIU President Stern asked for all working people at home and abroad,” stated the documentand received approval to launch a new coalition of allies to urging AFL-CIO reform. It called on the federation to estab-combat Wal-Mart’s negative impact on communities and work- lish a center that would target Wal-Mart and fund it with allers and its broad corporate irresponsibility. While Wal-Mart of the roughly $25 million in royalties the AFL-CIO receivedworkers were not in SEIU’s jurisdiction, the Wal-Mart model from its a nity credit card arrangement then in e ect.of low-wage jobs set an employment standard that hurt workers Although the federation began to step up its anti-Wal-across the United States and Canada and worldwide. Mart activity, the real action shifted to the organization SEIU “Wal-Mart is leading the way for corporations that seek to created: Wal-Mart Watch.
  2. 2. 160 STRONGER TOGETHER: THE STORY OF SEIU a year in dividends then and were richer than Bill Gates and Warren Bu ett combined. Wal-Mart executives did quite well, too. en-CEO Lee Scott reported compensation in 2004 of $17.5 million—871 times more than the average U.S. Wal-Mart worker. He re- ceived pay amounting to $8,434 an hour, while the o cial gure given by the company for its average worker was $9.68 an hour. e top ve executives at Wal-Mart received $219 million over the ve years prior to SEIU launching Wal-Mart Watch. Tom Coughlin, second in command at Wal-Mart, got more than $12 million a year, until he was caught stealing company funds. Coughlin’s initial defense: he didn’t steal the money but siphoned it o to create a secret slush fund to nance anti- union activity. e Walton family and Wal-Mart itself had given large grants to the anti-union National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. And the company maintained an elaborate anti- union “hit squad” ready to be dispatched to any store in the United States and Canada at the rst sign of worker discontent. e only successful organizing e ort in a U.S. Wal-Mart was in the butcher department of a store in Jacksonville, Texas. Within two weeks, Wal-Mart made a “strategic decision” to close its butcher departments nationwide. In Canada, workers e goal was to spark a broader alliance of progressive forc- formed a union in 2004 at a store in Quebec, which Wal-Martes around the need to transform the way Wal-Mart operated then closed down citing “low pro tability.”and, in doing so, at least build some speed bumps that would e message to Wal-Mart workers became very clear: at-slow down corporate followers on the road to making the Wal- tempt to exercise your legal right to join a union and you’ll endMart model the American norm. up in the unemployment line.159 Playing o the old line about what was good for GM was SEIU repeatedly made it crystal clear that it had no inten-good for the country, Stern said: “What’s good for Wal-Mart tion of organizing Wal-Mart workers, who it said rightly belongends up being good for ve families—the heirs to the Walton in the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union.fortune.”158 e ve heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton Both SEIU and UFCW were in discussion during this time oncontrolled about 39 percent of Wal-Mart stock and had a net the need to reform the AFL-CIO and both joined in withdraw-worth of more than $90 billion. ey earned nearly $1 billion ing from the federation. UFCW had its own anti-Wal-Mart
  3. 3. FIGHTING WAL-MART’S LOW-WAGE AMERICA 161group called “Wake-Up Wal-Mart” that added e ective pres- workforce and that Wal-Mart had a signi cant percentage of itssure on the company to reform. workers and their families on Medicaid. e SEIU-funded Wal-Mart Watch scored a publicity A restorm ensued, as Wal-Mart had to admit that, as thecoup in 2005 when it got its hands on an internal memo from world’s largest corporation with more than $288 billion in an-a top Wal-Mart executive to the company’s board of directors nual sales and 1.2 million workers at the time in the Unitedoutlining new steps to reduce healthcare costs of its workforce. States, it did not pay for health insurance for more than half ofIt proposed hiring even more part-time workers and recruiting its employees.younger (presumably healthier) workers. e memo acknowl- Instead, Wal-Mart cost taxpayers more than $1.5 billionedged that “our critics are correct” that the health coverage pro- annually by forcing hundreds of thousands of employees to relyvided Wal-Mart workers was very expensive for its low-income on government programs from children’s health insurance to school lunches. “ e obvious question: why should taxpayers subsidize the healthcare costs for a corporation that reported more than $10 billion in pro ts in 2004 alone,” Wal-Mart Watch said in a counter annual report it issued shortly before the company’s shareholders’ meeting. With Wal-Mart paying sales clerks about $14,000 per year—a wage below the government-de ned poverty level for a family of three—a clerk would have to pay the rst $1,000 of healthcare costs out-of-pocket, if that worker was covered under the Wal-Mart health plan. Politicians—both Democrats and Republicans—soon felt the heat from voters angered over the news that taxpayers had to pick up much of the tab for workers’ healthcare that Wal-Mart, as a matter of corporate policy, sought to shift to the public. e controversy over Wal-Mart and healthcare sparked by the SEIU-funded Wal-Mart Watch laid the groundwork for two later developments. First, the company had to o er better, more comprehensive (although still inadequate) health plans to many of its workers. And second, it ultimately shaped a climate in which SEIU pressed Wal-Mart to give President Obama’s healthcare reformSEIU helped fund the documentary Wal-Mart: e High Cost of Low Price in a boost when the company joined SEIU in a letter calling for2005. Produced by Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films, it detailed Wal-Mart’s assault on its own workers and communities. legislation to require all large employers to o er health insur-
  4. 4. 162 STRONGER TOGETHER: THE STORY OF SEIUance to their workers. “We are for an employer mandate which if some of corporate America could not be cajoled and maneu-is fair and broad in its coverage,” the letter said. vered into publicly accepting concepts such as universal health- While this helped create a climate in which some members care and an employer mandate.of Congress, particularly conservative Democrats, could em- At the same time, Stern continued to blast Wal-Mart onbrace an employer mandate for healthcare in 2009, some SEIU a wide variety of fronts: its anti-union behavior, its discrimina-critics decried any initiative that had the union and Wal-Mart tion against women, its low-wage business model, its sweat-on the same page. In 2007, many of the same critics had be- shop production sourcing from China, and so on. And SEIUcome apoplectic when SEIU reacted positively about Wal-Mart continued to spend $2 million to $3 million a year fundingafter it joined the Better Health Care Together partnership to Wal-Mart Watch’s activities to hold the company accountablepush for universal healthcare. But SEIU knew that on the one to higher standards of corporate social responsibility and ghtissue of healthcare reform, little hope for progress would exist for the rights of Wal-Mart employees.