Monday, June 20, 2011

A big day for Walmart's NY push

By Greg David

The campaign to keep New York City Walmart-free suffered three significant blows in the last few days. They bring the inevitable resolution of this high-profile controversy several steps closer.

The first setback took place Friday when workers at the Target store in Valley Stream, L.I., voted against joining the retail workers' union by a vote of 137-85.

The union claims it lost as a result of illegal actions by Target intimidating workers by pointing out the impact of dues on paychecks, warning that joining the union would not necessarily lead to higher wages and raising the possibility that the store could close. The National Labor Relations' pro-union tilt under President Barack Obama makes it possible the union's complaints will gain traction, although what Target did is not actually illegal--just harmful to the union's cause.

Even if the NLRB acts, the result is unlikely to change: The union lost because unionization simply isn't appealing to most Target employees. Many workers see retail jobs as temporary, so promises of seniority-based raises and hiring don't have much appeal. Workers also know that the contracts the union has won aren't really better at the low-end of the pay scale and workers can come out worse off after dues. And it is a fact that working at the one unionized Target in the nation would be a risky proposition.

The bottom line: Retailing will remain a non-unionized business in which Walmart is just like its competitors.

The second is today's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that threw out a class-action lawsuit alleging the giant retailer systematically discriminated against women. While many of the issues in the case involve questions of class-action law, the key is the view of the majority that the plaintiff's had presented any evidence that Walmart practiced large-scale and intentional discrimination.

The bottom line: The court decision is a dent in the argument that Walmart is some sort of renegade employer. If it is not out of the mainstream, why it is it barred from the city when its rivals are not?

The third is today's Crain's story that reveals talks between Christine Quinn, a vocal Walmart opponent, and the company. The City Council speaker wants Walmart to commit to buying some of its produce from the Hunts Point market, which might make it more attractive for the market to remain in the Bronx rather than move to New Jersey. The company says it is willing to make such a commitment.

This is the first public sign of the deal many political insiders have been expecting. Walmart's supermarkets, many of which will go in the city's poorer neighborhoods, will offer lower prices and better produce, as well as jobs to the city's "food deserts," which concern Ms. Quinn. The speaker is clearly in the market for an agreement with the company.

Bottom line: The anti-Walmart campaign collapses without the speaker because it means there is no chance the Council will enact the new legislation needed to keep the retailer out.

Consider the countdown to an announcement of Walmart's entry into the city under way.

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