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WALMART IN VERMONT

Hundreds of Vermonters Turn out for Wal-Mart Awareness Week (Nov 2005):
In Calais 40 people squeezed into the Maple Corner Community Center. Organizers in Norwich closed the doors and turned folks away after nearly 80 people crammed into a hall designed for 50. Over 450 people crowded into a University of Vermont auditorium designed for 300 and dozens more were turned away. What drew so many people out recently into the chilly, damp November air? The latest documentary by renowned filmmaker Robert Greenwald: ‘Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.’

Across the state, over a dozen social justice, workers rights, and environmental organizations hosted over 20 screenings of the film about the world’s largest corporation — Wal-Mart — as part of national ‘Wal-Mart Awareness Week.’ More than 1,000 Vermonters turned out in every corner of the state to learn more about Wal-Mart’s high costs to workers, taxpayers, local businesses and community character. Preliminary estimates are that nearly 1 million people attended one of the more than 7,000 screenings across the world.

With Wal-Mart’s plans for building and expanding three new stores in Vermont, public interest in the issue is high and sparked a lively civic debate at many of the screenings. Over 250 people came to the St. Michael’s screening where two former Wal-Mart workers from Jonquière, Quebec, and a union organizer from the United Food and Commercial Workers of Canada, spoke about their efforts to organize a union in 2004. Just after a majority of workers voted to unionize the Jonquière store, Wal-Mart announced its plans to close the store in May 2005. Their reason? Low sales. In September, however, the Quebec Labor Board fined Wal-Mart for unlawfully closing the store in retaliation against workers for unionizing.

Other tales of Wal-Mart’s disregard for anything beyond their bottom line are highlighted in the film. Business owners, local officials, Wal-Mart workers and everyday people tell poignant, compelling stories. For communities wrestling with Wal-Mart coming to town, their stories offer a unique perspective on how and why it is important to ensure the multinational corporation respects the people and places where they do business.

Background Information on "High Standards for Big Box Campaign"
The Peace & Justice Center’s Vermont Livable Wage Campaign (VLWC), Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) and Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC) have launched the “Higher Standards for Big Box Campaign” to create a more coordinated effort to raise the standards of Big Box retail employers who wish to do business in Vermont. The goal of the partnership is to use Wal-Mart’s plans for expansion in Vermont as a focal point to raise the low-road standards of retail employers as a whole in Vermont. VLWC focuses on public education and building a statewide media campaign. VNRC works to educate and support local citizen groups to advance less damaging solutions, including working with concerned citizens in the local and state development review processes, passing legislation to cap Big Box development and promoting community-owned discount stores as a viable alternative to Big Boxes. VWC brings workers into the campaign, supports workers through their Workers’ Rights Hotline, and leads communities in the development of Community Benefits Agreements.

 

The Story of Wal-Mart in Vermont

Little more than a decade ago, Vermont was the only state in the nation without a Wal-Mart store. Now the state has four Wal-Marts, and proposals are pending for three bigger stores. Because Vermonters understand the high costs the giant retailer often has on local businesses, downtowns and rural character, citizens have been fairly successful at forcing Wal-Mart to come into the state on our terms. When Wal-Mart built smaller stores in downtown or already-developed locations in Berlin, Bennington and Rutland, there was little objection. Yet, when Wal-Mart sought to develop a 100,000 square foot store in a cornfield two miles outside the city of St. Albans over a decade ago, VNRC, Preservation Trust of Vermont, and citizens fought the giant retailer all the way to the Supreme Court and won. The court found that the proposed store would harm communities, local business and the economy. Now, however, Wal-Mart is back. And they are bold. Their proposals are no longer ‘Vermont scale.’ Wal-Mart proposes to build a 160,000 square foot store in the same St. Albans cornfield and more than double the size of the current store in Bennington. The most recent Wal-Mart proposal is for a 150,000 square foot store in the rural, remote Northeast Kingdom town of Derby.

 

Wal-Mart’s increasingly brazen, one-size-fits-all development model has little regard for the communities and people where they locate. In the mid-1990s and again in 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the whole state of Vermont as endangered specifically because Wal-Mart’s plans for expansion threaten the state’s downtowns, rural character and quality of life. The ‘Higher Standards for Big Box Campaign’ aims to avoid the damaging consequences Wal-Mart’s practices can have on the towns and people where they do business. By drawing together the interests of businesses, workers, environmentalists, and people seeking access to affordable goods, we can better hold Wal-Mart and other Big Box development accountable to the high standards and concerns of Vermonters. 

What Impact? Vermont Statistics on Wal-Mart

The High Costs of Wal-Mart on Communities and Workers:

  • A  June 1994 independent economic study by Humstone/Muller found that over 10 years, Wal-Mart would create 214 retail jobs in St. Albans but cause the loss of 381 jobs — a net loss of 167 jobs in Franklin County.

  • $1 of public revenue generated by Wal-Mart costs taxpayers $2.501 

  • Wal-Mart imports 10 percent  of all Chinese goods sold in the U.S., and 70 percent of what Wal-Mart sells is made in China. [1]

  • In each Wal-Mart store there is a mandate that the managers have to reduce their expenses by 2 percent each year.  Unfortunately, labor costs (i.e. employees) are considered an expense that can be reduced.

  • Wal-Mart’s objective is to reduce operating costs as much as possible. Wal-Mart defines full-time employees (FT) as working 34 hours per week. The average wage for Wal-Mart’s most common jobs, sales associates and cashiers, is $7.92 to $8.23 an hour. [2] The Vermont livable wage is $12.37/hour and defines FT as 40 hours a week. [3]

  • Of the 421 Vermont big box retail workers who accessed Medicaid last year, 286 worked at Wal-Mart (68%). [4]

  • After the development of the big boxes in Williston, the town had to increase the sales tax by 1 percent to support the additional costs the boxes generated (such as police, fire, roads, etc). [5]

  • Over a 10-year period, communities with a Wal-Mart were poorer than they were before. A Wal-Mart superstore in St. Albans would need to attract business from 75 percent of the patrons that now support local businesses. [6]

 

WHAT’S HAPPENING IN VERMONT?

  • Wal-Mart has three active development proposals. They are: St. Albans (under review and appeal by VNRC and concerned citizens), Derby (under review) and Bennington (under review).

  • Wal-Mart has expressed interest in locating stores in Middlebury, St. Johnsbury, Morrisville, and Rutland.

 

ALTERNATIVES:

  • Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) — Many labor coalitions across the country are using CBA’s to ensure that development projects really benefit local residents. CBAs are legally binding documents that become part of the city’s agreement with the developer. The agreement contains numerous provisions stipulating exactly how the development will benefit the community.

  • Square footage size capsLimiting the size of stores allows for new development but also allows other small-scale, family owned businesses to compete with large-scale retailers. A proposal to set a retail cap was introduced in 2005 to the Vermont Legislature and will be taken up again in 2006.

  • Downtown locations — Directing development to places where infrastructure — water, sewer, roads, emergency services etc. — already exists helps strengthen Vermont’s historic downtowns and curb sprawl.

  • Community owned retail stores — A viable alternative to Big Box chain stores, ‘Mercantiles,’ are finding success in communities across the nation. These community designed, supported and managed retail stores provide shoppers access to quality products at discounted prices.


GET INVOLVED!

  • Help us hold Wal-Mart accountable. Join this growing collaborative as a member of one of our organizations or as an activist. Help us spread the word by writing letters to the editor. Talk to your friends, family, neighbors about their damaging practices. Shop locally!

  • Join the “Higher Standards” campaign. Contact any of the three Vermont groups below to find out how.

  • Contact your Vermont legislators and urge them to support a statewide cap on new retail development.

  • Join or start a citizens group in any of the communities where Wal-Mart might build.

  • Host a Wal-Mart 101 workshop (contact VLWC).

  • For more information, contact any of the organizations below.        

 

Local Resources:                                                                                                

Vermont Livable Wage Campaign, Peace & Justice Center     

21 Church Street, Burlington, VT 05401                                 

802-863-2345 x8 *  livablewage@pjcvt.org                        

www.vtlivablewage.org

 

Vermont Natural Resources Council                                        

9 Bailey Avenue

Montpelier, VT 05602

802-223-2328       

www.vnrc.org   *  jmiller@vnrc.org

 

 

Vermont Workers’ Center                                                   

P.O. Box 883                                                                       

Montpelier, VT 05601

802-229-0009 * info@workerscenter.org  
VERMONT WORKERS’ RIGHTS HOTLINE
Toll-Free: 1-866-229-0009

www.workerscenter.org

 

National Resources:

United Food and Commercial Workers

www.ufcw.org

 

Wake-Up Wal-Mart!

www.wakeupwalmart.com

 

                                                                                                             


[1] [1] “Vermont Wal-Mart Watch”, “Wal-Mart’s Impact” http://www.vermontwalmartwatch.org Oct. 28,2005.

[2] “Institute for Policy Studies”, “Wal-Mart’s Pay Gap” http://www.ips-dc.org/projects/global_econ/walmart_pay_gap.htm Oct 28,2005.

[3] “Wake Up Wal-Mart”, “Wal-Mart Facts” http://www.wakeupwalmart.com Oct. 28, 2005.

[4] Casa, Kathryn. Vermont Guardian, “Employees at Vermont’s top companies enrolled in Medicaid health plans.” April 18, 2005.

[5] “Northwest Citizens for Responsible Growth”, “Facts to consider” http://www.nwcrg.org Oct. 28, 2005. 

[6] “Wake Up Wal-Mart” “A few facts about Wal-Mart” http://www.wakeupwalmart.com/community/VT-franklin-county-20050609.html


 

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Background Information

The Story of Wal-Mart in Vermont

What Impact?

What's Happening Now?

Alternatives to Wal-Mart

Get Involved!

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