The last two posts in Fish Wrap have taken aim at things that were said and published in the in the Morrison County Record. I have to admit that my undies are in a bunch over all the things not being said, by the pucker-up and blow stories that are being churned out each week spit polished to look and sound like news stories. A prime example; the August 5th story announcing the Wal-Mart Supercenter’s grand opening.

Call me crazy but I’d call that a marketing campaign & free advertising space for those being promoted, insulated and propped up. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think news has to be sour grapes but shouldn’t there be a shred of truth or some smidgen of objectivity?

Wal-Mart has always promoted itself as “a price leader”, keeping the competition “honest,” while using their leverage & market size to hold its prices just below that of their competitors. If history is any indicatory the community will enjoy the combination of convenience and a low price… but only until there is no competition.

I have to admit that I was kind of excited to peek at the big new store on the day of the grand opening, to coo at the larger selection of shoes, books, electronics and house wares. But my excitement was dashed completely when I drove past Hardware Hank’s parking lot and saw one car. We can spout all we want to about a free market economy and the rules of competition but let’s be honest here; there was a reason for busting up Ma Bell and Standard Oil.

As I entered the brand-spanking new superstore store I couldn’t help but wonder what the community had really exchanged for Wal-Mart’s low prices. I wondered if our experience would be similar to that of so many other communities. Of the 150 to 200 new employees, how many are full time? Better yet how many are being paid a living wage? Will we see an increase in use of the local food shelf? Will the $10,000.00 donation to Unity Health Care be off set by the decreased reimbursement rate of state health plans?  When Cindy Uhlenkamp, executive director of the Sauk Center Chamber of Commerce, told the Morrison County Record of her communities Wal-Mart experience, saying “I’ve heard our downtown businesses say they’ve possibly gone up in business due to the traffic coming though.” Who are these businesses… and “possibly gone up?” Why so vague? And if this were predominately the case why do so many rural Main Street’s across the country look like ghost towns in the wake of Wal-Mart?

I also wondered if the rumors about Wal-Mart’s def con union policies were true, if the mere utterance of the world union would really trigger the dispatch of corporate jets filled with executives to take over the store. Lore has it that jets land within 4 hours… made me feel like shouting across the supercenter to the manager, “so how are the employee’s coming with getting that union in?” Would the Suits really show up?

Since the Morrison County Record has already devoted a whole page to rolling out the red carpet while singing praise-be-to-Wal-Mart, I’ll offer the the other side of the story. Here’s a sampling:

Michael Hicks, an economist at the Air Force Institute of Technology at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, conducted a study analyzing state Medicaid data from 1978 to 2003 and found that Wal-Mart causes an increase in state Medicaid spending by as much as $898 per person.

*Business Week, 10/26/05 

Off the Clock Working

In 2000, Wal-Mart paid $50 million to settle a lawsuit that involved 69,000 workers in Colorado who had allegedly been forced to work off the clock.

In 2002, a federal grand jury in Oregon found Wal-Mart employees were forced to work off the clock and awarded back pay to 83 workers.

In the United States, Wal-Mart has 53 class action lawsuits over wage and hour violations.

*New York Times, 11/19/04; Associated Press, 2/17/04; Associated Press, 9/19/05; Associated Press, 12/22/05.

Hiring Undocumented Workers

Wal-Mart paid $11 million to settle a federal investigation called “Operation Rollback,” which found hundreds of undocumented immigrants working off the clock to clean stores.

In 2003, federal agents raided 61 Wal-Mart stores and arrested 250 undocumented immigrants.

*Washington Post, 3/19/05; Los Angeles Times, 10/24/03.

Bottoms Up,Brooke Trout