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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
The Vermont livable wage is
$12.37/hour and defines FT as 40 hours a week.
Of the 421 Vermont big
box retail workers who accessed Medicaid last year, 286 worked at Wal-Mart
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).
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.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN VERMONT?
three active development proposals. They are: St. Albans (under review and
appeal by VNRC and concerned citizens), Derby (under review) and Bennington
expressed interest in locating stores in Middlebury, St. Johnsbury,
Morrisville, and Rutland.
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.
footage size caps — Limiting 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
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!
“Higher Standards” campaign. Contact any of the three Vermont groups below to
find out how.
Vermont legislators and urge them to support a statewide cap on new retail
start a citizens group in any of the communities where Wal-Mart might build.
Wal-Mart 101 workshop (contact VLWC).
information, contact any of the organizations below.
Casa, Kathryn. Vermont Guardian, “Employees at Vermont’s top
companies enrolled in Medicaid health plans.” April 18, 2005.