May 13, 2004
The Beast from Bentonville
A long time ago, I was glad when Wal-Mart first came to town. "Always low prices, always" is its motto, and who wouldn't want to save money here and there on toiletries and household items that you have to buy anyway?
Consumers loved Wal-Mart. Wall Street and investors loved it, too. Fortune magazine this year named it the most admired company in the United States and the world. It posted $250 billion in sales last year. One hundred million customers shop in its 3,000 stores and supercenters (giant Wal-Marts that sell food and other perishables) every week. It has even opened stores overseas.
But the honeymoon didn't last long for many consumers like me. Wal-Mart quickly became that new neighbor who's worn out its welcome, bullying everybody and taking over the whole neighborhood. This corporate behemoth from Bentonville, Arkansas got bigger and bigger and wants to get bigger still, spending $1 billion monthly to buy property and build more stores.
In California alone, they want to build 40 supercenters and don't care how they do it. When supervisors in Oakland tried to ban them from building, they sued. When the city of Inglewood did the same, they arrogantly introduced a ballot measure allowing them to build a supercenter without the limits of environmental, zoning and traffic laws. They spent millions on advertisements promoting it. They even duped a nice old lady from the community and used her picture on mailers, with glowing remarks about Wal-Mart that were not even hers. Fortunately, the residents saw through the ruse and resoundingly defeated the measure.
Wal-Mart courts its consumers and shareholders at the expense of its workers. It squeezes its suppliers dry, pays sweatshop wages to workers overseas, pays its local employees as low as $6.10 an hour, offers unaffordable health benefits and busts workers' efforts to unionize. Not to mention that little incident last year when 250 illegal immigrants were found working in its stores for as low as $2 a day. No wonder it was labeled a "Merchant of Shame" by the National Organization for Women.
The company is also facing multiple class-action lawsuits across the country. One lawsuit representing 1.6 million past and present workers alleges that female employees were paid less than their male counterparts for similar jobs, and got the short end in promotion and job assignments. Another lawsuit in California representing 200,000 workers charges that Wal-Mart routinely understaffs its stores, forcing employees to work overtime or skip meal breaks without pay at the risk of getting fired.
We can't afford Wal-Mart. Every penny we save there costs our communities much more in fair wages not paid its workers and even more in social benefits and health care that must be provided those workers because they can barely make ends meet. In effect, what Wal-Mart doesn't pay, you and I pay.
I don't know about you, but I'd rather pay a few more bucks to buy my toothpaste and paper towels elsewhere. Needless to say, I'll never shop at Wal-Mart again.
* A Congressional study (pdf format) was conducted showing exactly how much Wal-Mart is costing taxpayers. Some of the figures were kindly summarized by FDtate as follows:
* According to Good Jobs First (pdf format), Wal-Mart took advantage of economic development subsidies totaling at least $1 billion even though the state governments providing them are hurting for money and have to cut down in areas like health care, education and public safety. This in spite of Wal-Mart's $200 billion in revenue and $9 billion in profits last year.
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Wonky Muse is the other Filipino American female political blogger. The sane, liberal one.
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