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Falls City Beer
03-10-2005, 11:36 AM
A chink in the evil empire's armor.

For Labor, a Wal-Mart Closing in Canada Is a Call to Arms
By CLIFFORD KRAUSS

Published: March 10, 2005



Robert J. Galbraith for NYT
The Wal-Mart in Jonquière, Quebec, will close this spring because of what the retailer said were escalating union demands and falling sales.

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JONQUIÈRE, Quebec - Shoppers in this Quebec mill town are about to pay more for ice-fishing gear, snowmobile covers and cheese curds for poutine: the local Wal-Mart is closing this spring.

But Wal-Mart's announcement in February that it could no longer do business here because of skimpy store revenue and escalating union demands is having a much broader impact across Canada and even south of the border. The closing - the first of a Wal-Mart in Canada - is a strategic retreat for the retailer in its war with organized labor.

Since August 2004, when this store became the only unionized Wal-Mart in North America, Jonquière has become a rallying cry for retail union organizers who want to stop an erosion of membership in the grocery industry in both Canada and the United States.

At least three other Wal-Mart outlets in Quebec have received bomb threats since the Jonquière closing announcement, forcing evacuations and losses in sales. Bernard Landry, the leader of the separatist Parti Québécois and a former premier of the province, has announced that he is boycotting the chain. A Quebec television broadcaster compared Wal-Mart to Nazism, but later apologized.

In the last decade, Wal-Mart has become Canada's biggest retailer, shoving the T. Eaton Company out of that spot and contributing to its demise. But in contrast to their counterparts in the United States, unions in Canada have had traces of success in organizing. For the giant American chain, Jonquière has become another barricade in its battle to keep unions out of its business.

"What we were left with was a store that was not going to be viable," Andrew Pelletier, director for corporate affairs at Wal-Mart Canada, said in an interview. "We felt the union wanted to fundamentally change the store's business model."

Unionizing efforts at Wal-Marts in North America have virtually never stuck. A store in Windsor, Ontario, was unionized in 1997, but workers dissolved the union three years later when it failed to deliver a contract. A vote in 2000 to unionize meat cutters in Jacksonville, Tex., was followed by Wal-Mart's turning to prepackaged meat, eliminating the need for meat cutters.

[On Tuesday, 74 percent of workers in Windsor voted against a new union, with both the organizers and Wal-Mart filing unfair labor practices complaints.]

Union leaders say Wal-Mart is using Jonquière as an example to whip workers into line at a second Wal-Mart store outside Montreal that successfully organized in January and in more than 20 other outlets in at least three provinces where organizing efforts have begun.

They also claim that the 17-to-1 vote against unionization at the Wal-Mart Tire and Lube Express in Loveland, Colo., in late February was a sign of the chill sweeping down from Jonquière for workers who fear that organizing a union could mean the loss of their jobs.

"What's at stake here," Michael J. Fraser, Canada national director of the United Food and Commercial Workers, said in an interview, "is whether or not Wal-Mart is going to be successful at attempting to prevent people from exercising their democratic right to form a union."

Workers at various Wal-Marts around Quebec say they are being pressured by both management and labor. They describe a workplace atmosphere poisoned by rumor-mongering, insults and damage to personal property.

Anti-union workers at the Ste. Foy store, which other workers are trying to organize, reported unwanted visits to their homes in the middle of the night by organizers during the unionization drive. Two pro-union cashiers at the Ste. Hyacinthe store outside Montreal reported that they recently had shortages in their registers, which they believe were the work of management trickery to get them into trouble.

"This store is basically hell right now," said Noella Langlois, 53, a saleswoman in the Jonquière store who opposes unionization. "You have two deeply divided clans."

Wal-Mart has been struggling to keep unions out of its Canadian stores since it bought more than 100 outlets from another retailer 11 years ago; it now has 256 Wal-Marts and 6 Sam's Club stores in Canada. A local of the United Food and Commercial Workers succeeded in gathering the signatures of a majority of Jonquière workers last summer.

But the battleground in Quebec, where Wal-Mart has 47 stores, is not particularly favorable to the chain because provincial labor law is tilted in favor of unions. Forty percent of the province's work force is unionized, a rate 25 percent higher than the rest of Canada and more than three times the rate in the United States.

Quebec's labor relations board recently ordered Wal-Mart Canada to stop "intimidating and harassing" cashiers at a store in Ste. Foy, a suburb of Quebec City, amid an organizing drive.

Since the union's success in Jonquière, it has successfully organized a Wal-Mart outlet in Ste. Hyacinthe and collective bargaining is about to begin there. But a union meeting in February was poorly attended because, some workers contend, employees are afraid of losing their jobs.

"The workers are nervous," said Veronique Falardeau, 23, a part-time cashier in the Ste. Hyacinthe store who says she wants a union to gain a more regular work schedule and benefits like insurance. "People are wondering if they closed Jonquière, they'll close our store, too."

Wal-Mart filed a court challenge to the certification process for union cards at the Ste. Hyacinthe store in February, claiming it is undemocratic and open to union pressure tactics.

Wal-Mart managers say a majority of their Canadian workers do not want unions, and they point to the fact that the 190 employees in Jonquière voted in a secret ballot in 2004 against the union. But under Quebec law, union organizers were able to unionize the store anyway by persuading a majority of employees to sign union cards.

Once recognized, the union entered collective bargaining at the Jonquière store and demanded work schedule changes that management said would have forced the hiring of at least 30 more workers and were financially impossible.

"After four collective bargaining meetings, it was clear we were not getting anywhere," said Mr. Pelletier, the Wal-Mart Canada senior manager. "The union is targeting us everywhere in virtually every part of the country. What it feels like and looks like is that they are transferring much of their effort from the United States to Canada."

Mr. Fraser of the United Food and Commercial Workers said he still hoped a government arbitrator could bring the two sides together, and keep the store open. He argued that union card-signing campaigns were more democratic than secret votes because "when there is a vote Wal-Mart uses intimidation tactics."

Intimidation appears to go both ways, according to workers at three Wal-Mart stores in Quebec.

Sylvie Lavoie, a 40-year-old single mother and part-time cashier in the Jonquière store who says she needs a union, accused store managers of taking workers aside before the secret vote and warning them that a union would mean the store would close.

Afterward the workers came to union organizers crying and pleading for promises that they would not lose their jobs.

"They intimidate and do what they want," Ms. Lavoie said.

But Steve Lemieux, a 20-year-old cart pusher in the Ste. Foy store, says it is the union that is the abuser. "People who are for the unions have trouble accepting other opinions and they keep knocking on our doors to get us to sign their cards," he said.

"We don't need a union since there is easy advancement if you work for it."

Johnny Footstool
03-10-2005, 12:18 PM
All the more reason to work hard in school and get an education so you don't have to rely on making a living at Wal-Mart.

RedFanAlways1966
03-10-2005, 01:32 PM
Good point, Johnny, good point. :thumbup:

I love to share with fellow RZ readers some of the background of the writers of some of these columns. Sometimes it sheds a bit of light and gives the reader a broader scope. Perhaps some writers have a slant? Hmmmmm.

Some recent articles by the NY Times' Clifford Krauss...

November 25 -- "A New Underground Railroad" for Gays to Canada?
Clifford Krauss likens the trek of U.S. gays marrying in Canada to the Underground Railroad for escaping slaves: "Gay Couples Follow a Trail North Blazed by Slaves and War Resisters." A teaser embedded in another story on gay marriage makes the connection explicit: "A New Underground Railroad: Hundreds of Americans, fleeing state laws, are going to Canada to marry." The story opens with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.

November 18 -- Syria's Torture, America's Shame
Clifford Krauss tells the story of a Canadian arrested while changing planes at JFK and deported to his native Syria, where he was jailed and claims to have been tortured. Krauss shakes his head and blames...the United States.

Wonder how long Clifford would stay alive if he wrote bad gov't press as a writer and citizen of... Syria, Iraq, North Korea, Iran or Somolia? Ironic... that he still lives and works in a country w/ such a terrible and oppressive government. Imagine that. :MandJ:

Falls City Beer
03-10-2005, 01:51 PM
All the more reason to work hard in school and get an education so you don't have to rely on making a living at Wal-Mart.

Oh, if it were just that simple.

CbusRed
03-10-2005, 01:55 PM
Oh, if it were just that simple.


What isn't simple about it? I did it.

Seemed pretty simple to me.

Falls City Beer
03-10-2005, 02:09 PM
What isn't simple about it? I did it.

Seemed pretty simple to me.

So did I. But the rails are greased for some (including me). I had two parents (both well-educated) who encouraged me like crazy not simply to get good grades but to pursue knowledge, be curious.

Some parents have never seen the inside of their kids' schools, let alone pushed them to do their homework, stay on top of things. In fact, many parents see school as a troubling place because as students themselves, they only saw school as a place of punishment and reprimand, not cooperation. When I taught high school, only the "good" students' parents ever showed up on parent conference night. It's a vicious circle.

CbusRed
03-10-2005, 02:12 PM
So did I. But the rails are greased for some (including me). I had two parents (both well-educated) who encouraged me like crazy not simply to get good grades but to pursue knowledge, be curious.

Some parents have never seen the inside of their kids' schools, let alone pushed them to do their homework, stay on top of things. In fact, many parents see school as a troubling place because as students themselves, they only saw school as a place of punishment and reprimand, not cooperation. When I taught high school, only the "good" students' parents ever showed up on parent conference night. It's a vicious circle.


Very good points.

TRF
03-10-2005, 03:19 PM
So did I. But the rails are greased for some (including me). I had two parents (both well-educated) who encouraged me like crazy not simply to get good grades but to pursue knowledge, be curious.

Some parents have never seen the inside of their kids' schools, let alone pushed them to do their homework, stay on top of things. In fact, many parents see school as a troubling place because as students themselves, they only saw school as a place of punishment and reprimand, not cooperation. When I taught high school, only the "good" students' parents ever showed up on parent conference night. It's a vicious circle.

Pheh.

I grew up in Lower Price Hill. at least i spent 4 years there. I went to a different school every year of my life until 10th grade, spanning 4 states and 3,000 miles. My mom was more interested in drugs than her kids at various times, and to my knowledge never even met my teachers after 7th grade.

Despite all that (and a ton more, half of which was my own stupid fault) I graduated HS and went on to college, without any help from my family.

I work for a college as head of Web Services, and my 15 year old daughter is looking to go to Baylor when she graduates. She wants to be a surgeon.

Stay in school. listen to your teachers. Focus on a future you can enjoy, and be prepared to inform your children better than your parents informed you, because the world is constantly changing.

Most of all, learn to stand on your own early, because the future gets here pretty damn quick.

Falls City Beer
03-10-2005, 03:52 PM
Pheh.

I grew up in Lower Price Hill. at least i spent 4 years there. I went to a different school every year of my life until 10th grade, spanning 4 states and 3,000 miles. My mom was more interested in drugs than her kids at various times, and to my knowledge never even met my teachers after 7th grade.

Despite all that (and a ton more, half of which was my own stupid fault) I graduated HS and went on to college, without any help from my family.

I work for a college as head of Web Services, and my 15 year old daughter is looking to go to Baylor when she graduates. She wants to be a surgeon.

Stay in school. listen to your teachers. Focus on a future you can enjoy, and be prepared to inform your children better than your parents informed you, because the world is constantly changing.

Most of all, learn to stand on your own early, because the future gets here pretty damn quick.


Good for you. I'm serious.

But not everyone is you.

I know it's sacrilege to suggest Horatio Alger stories aren't always what they're cracked up to be, but you should think twice before you suggest that someone's life can't possibly be any more screwed up than your own. Trust me, if you can imagine "worse," someone will kick down that door to a "worse" you can't even imagine in your wildest dreams. Yes, even in the richest country in the world.

Rojo
03-10-2005, 05:05 PM
I'm not sure I'm following the logic here. I mean someone needs to work at Walmart, McDonalds, etc... Should those people be miserable? Are they bad people because they have bad jobs?

And maybe some of you should be happy that not everyone gets an education and competes with you for a job. When that happens, you'll be force to think about a union so that you can pay the rent.

Johnny Footstool
03-10-2005, 05:27 PM
I mean someone needs to work at Walmart, McDonalds, etc... Should those people be miserable? Are they bad people because they have bad jobs?

True, someone needs to work minimum wage jobs, but unskilled labor is cheap and plentiful.

I certainly don't think it's fair to force a company to pay more than the market demands for unskilled labor. If a worker is miserable, the burden is on him or her to improve the situation.

TRF
03-10-2005, 05:39 PM
Good for you. I'm serious.

But not everyone is you.

I know it's sacrilege to suggest Horatio Alger stories aren't always what they're cracked up to be, but you should think twice before you suggest that someone's life can't possibly be any more screwed up than your own. Trust me, if you can imagine "worse," someone will kick down that door to a "worse" you can't even imagine in your wildest dreams. Yes, even in the richest country in the world.

Never once thought my life was the worst one ever. My sister's is worse.

But as a teacher surely you understand the odds are better if you stay in school. And at some point even as a teenager you have to realize your future is in your own hands as much as it is in your surroundings.

Sometimes it does take longer though. I was 24 before i realized it. And that late start has cost me. But if your PRIMARY source of income is from stocking at Wal-Mart, more than likely the blame can be placed on the face in your mirror.

TRF
03-10-2005, 05:42 PM
I'm not sure I'm following the logic here. I mean someone needs to work at Walmart, McDonalds, etc... Should those people be miserable? Are they bad people because they have bad jobs?

And maybe some of you should be happy that not everyone gets an education and competes with you for a job. When that happens, you'll be force to think about a union so that you can pay the rent.

I'm competing with programmers from India that do my job at one third the price. I not only don't have a union, I don't want one.

Because they can't stop the global workforce that's coming, and I don't want them to. That global workforce will be necessary for the next great step our civilization takes, in improving our lives and exploring the next frontiers.

Even conservative people dream of the future. :)

paintmered
03-10-2005, 05:55 PM
I'm competing with programmers from India that do my job at one third the price. I not only don't have a union, I don't want one.

Because they can't stop the global workforce that's coming, and I don't want them to. That global workforce will be necessary for the next great step our civilization takes, in improving our lives and exploring the next frontiers.

Even conservative people dream of the future. :)


Wow TRF. Most people in your situation would be considering a move to Bangalore.

Rojo
03-10-2005, 07:24 PM
That global workforce will be necessary for the next great step our civilization takes, in improving our lives and exploring the next frontiers.

Keep repeating it. ;)

TRF
03-10-2005, 08:49 PM
Hey, just because i lean conservative, doesn't mean i 'm an isolationist. Truth is lot's of guys that do the job i do are getting outsourced overseas. I happen to be lucky i work for the state or it could happen to me. In fact a year ago, it nearly did. An education is no guarantee, but i've never heard of someone being worse off because of it. You rarely see someone with a Bachelor's or Masters Degree stocking at Wal-Mart. Unless they are 90 of course.

Falls City Beer
03-10-2005, 09:41 PM
Never once thought my life was the worst one ever. My sister's is worse.

But as a teacher surely you understand the odds are better if you stay in school. And at some point even as a teenager you have to realize your future is in your own hands as much as it is in your surroundings.

Sometimes it does take longer though. I was 24 before i realized it. And that late start has cost me. But if your PRIMARY source of income is from stocking at Wal-Mart, more than likely the blame can be placed on the face in your mirror.

I get paid to teach at a community college. I volunteer in a work program--mostly to get people who have criminal records back to work. And let me tell you: prison time is a scarlet letter for people who want to get back and "do right."

And to echo Rojo, not everyone wants to be IT, a teacher, or a doctor. But it doesn't mean those people need to be exploited.

TRF
03-10-2005, 10:45 PM
What exploitation? How much should someone be paid to stock soap?

Sometimes the "exploitation" is in the mind of the disgruntled worker. Oh but i must have cable, even though i only make $350 every two weeks.

Really How much should the corporations pay? and how much of what they have to pay gets passed on to me as the consumer?

BTW, accountant, vet, dental hygeine, nursing, drafting, mass communications, art-graphic design. all of these offer 1 year certificate programs. Not everyone can be a doctor. But most people can work for one, and if it's a choice between stocker and nurse, i think if you CHOOSE the latter, you get what you get.

Falls City Beer
03-10-2005, 10:54 PM
What exploitation? How much should someone be paid to stock soap?

Sometimes the "exploitation" is in the mind of the disgruntled worker. Oh but i must have cable, even though i only make $350 every two weeks.

Really How much should the corporations pay? and how much of what they have to pay gets passed on to me as the consumer?

BTW, accountant, vet, dental hygeine, nursing, drafting, mass communications, art-graphic design. all of these offer 1 year certificate programs. Not everyone can be a doctor. But most people can work for one, and if it's a choice between stocker and nurse, i think if you CHOOSE the latter, you get what you get.

Being given the opportunity to organize is a good step to avoiding exploitation. Ever heard of unpaid overtime? Keep your ears peeled.

I dont' know how much should be passed on to the consumer--enough so that others can get a fair wage, I guess.

How much should someone get paid to pick up your garbage? work the beat in your neighborhood? teach your kids and be responsible for them for 7-9 hours in a day?

All important questions. The good thing is: humans have the last say on what that figure should be, not "markets."

Johnny Footstool
03-11-2005, 09:27 AM
The good thing is: humans have the last say on what that figure should be, not "markets."

Humans *in control* who reap benefits from the market have the last say.

TRF
03-11-2005, 09:34 AM
All important questions. The good thing is: humans have the last say on what that figure should be, not "markets."

No they don't. the market always has the last say. believe that. In Dallas, my salary would be around $25-40K more per year. for the same job at the same size schools. and the cost of living while higher would certainly be offset by an increase that large.

And how much should a teacher make? dunno, but i know they don't get paid nearly enough. Tenured professors on the other hand... ;)

But everything is connected. I Wal-Mart for example has to start paying all their stockers $10 per hour, and the cost of that drives everything up, then Wal-Mart recoups their loss at my expense. Milk goes up. Bread goes up. etc. etc.

Now I (and the workers at wal-mart) have to buy less. The beauty of Wal-Mart is stuff is cheap. But when milk approaches $3.50 a gallon, well it's easy to drop $200 real quick at wally world. prices go up and that becomes $250.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not for exploiting workers with unpaid OT. My college is trying that in certain departments, And I think the state is looking at re-working OT period. But realistically if you decide to make wal-mart your career, you reap what you sow.

Falls City Beer
03-11-2005, 09:42 AM
No they don't. the market always has the last say. believe that. In Dallas, my salary would be around $25-40K more per year. for the same job at the same size schools. and the cost of living while higher would certainly be offset by an increase that large.

And how much should a teacher make? dunno, but i know they don't get paid nearly enough. Tenured professors on the other hand... ;)

But everything is connected. I Wal-Mart for example has to start paying all their stockers $10 per hour, and the cost of that drives everything up, then Wal-Mart recoups their loss at my expense. Milk goes up. Bread goes up. etc. etc.

Now I (and the workers at wal-mart) have to buy less. The beauty of Wal-Mart is stuff is cheap. But when milk approaches $3.50 a gallon, well it's easy to drop $200 real quick at wally world. prices go up and that becomes $250.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not for exploiting workers with unpaid OT. My college is trying that in certain departments, And I think the state is looking at re-working OT period. But realistically if you decide to make wal-mart your career, you reap what you sow.


Yes, in the end, markets are driven by people. People who say "it's the markets!!!" and pull their Pontius Pilate "wash my hands of it" act are doing just that, assuaging their consciences. No, it's people who set the market.

Now it's the liberal's turn to play pie in the sky, Horatio Alger. People can ALWAYS change the fates of economies and the working conditions therein. If, IF, they want to.

It's a whole hell of a lot tougher to change the home (and I use that term very loosely) in which you grew up.

TRF
03-11-2005, 10:03 AM
It's a whole hell of a lot tougher to change the home (and I use that term very loosely) in which you grew up.

Agreed. I could have easily taken the path of least resistance myself. several members of my family did. Of four kids, I was the only one to finish high school, and attend college. Consequently I make more than my siblings. I believe there is a connection there.

At some point you have to look at the person you are, and compare thet to the person you want to be. The family you start relies on you being responsible enough to know that first and foremost you (the parent) are responsible for the quality of your life.

Working at Wal-Mart is the path of least resistance. Not for everyone obviously. No one lives in a vacuum. But if you are 34 and working at wal-mart to support a family, then you messed up bad.

REDREAD
03-11-2005, 10:09 AM
. That global workforce will be necessary for the next great step our civilization takes, in improving our lives and exploring the next frontiers.


The next frontier is greater downward pressure on American wages, if you like that.. It's already happening.

Most of the earnings growth of American coorporations the past 4 years has been at the expense of labor. In short, the rich (CEOs) get richer while the middle class get poorer and have less opportunities.

I hope it never happens you you TRF, but as soon as you lose a job to overseas outsourcing, I think you'll have a different perspective. It's happened to me twice.

REDREAD
03-11-2005, 10:11 AM
. You rarely see someone with a Bachelor's or Masters Degree stocking at Wal-Mart. Unless they are 90 of course.

Actually, I know two guys that have masters in Computer Science working as stockers in Home Depot. Yeah, I guess they'll eventually work their way back up the food chain, but to tell the truth, I'm not it's going to be worthwhile for my kids to get a college degree by the time they're old enough to.

TRF
03-11-2005, 10:21 AM
Actually, I know two guys that have masters in Computer Science working as stockers in Home Depot. Yeah, I guess they'll eventually work their way back up the food chain, but to tell the truth, I'm not it's going to be worthwhile for my kids to get a college degree by the time they're old enough to.

http://www.monster.com

REDREAD
03-11-2005, 04:54 PM
http://www.monster.com

:rolleyes: Again, until it happens to you or someone you care about, I expect you to be callous. That's typical of most Americans.

Try being out of work in a market flooded with out of work IT people, when you have a family to support.
The employers are looking for people with very specific skills. You just have to hope they're hiring in a niche that you know. Of course, it pays to have a broad base of knowledge, but it's still very tough.

But, obviously, you've never experienced it. If you did, you wouldn't be so callous. And you wouldn't have the impression that it's easy to find an IT job now.

Luckily, the market seems to have picked up a little bit from the 2-3 years ago when I was most recently outsourced. But it's still tough.

Got to love these coorporations that staff up Americans to do all the initial hard development work. The Americans work 60-70 hours/week getting the product to work, and then they're all laid off while cheap Indians do the maintenance work..

TRF
03-11-2005, 07:10 PM
didn't mean to be callous, and i certainly didn't mean to offend you.

I very nearly was outsourced 2 years ago. I'm fortunate that i work for a community college, and our board was so outraged at the notion, our president was forced to resign.

2000, and the couple of years following the .com crash were tough for a lot of IT people. But things are looking better.

However they have yet to outsource Nursing to India. which brings me back to the point. How much should someone that stocks soap make? how much of their life choice is the responsibility of the corporation? Yes, bad stuff happens to people with degrees. And while you know two guys stocking with Masters degrees, I'd be willing to bet they don't comprise 2% of the workforce.

Moral of this story to me is: If you don't want a life of hard work for low wages and no benefits, stay in school.

It boggles my mind that there can be an opposing view on this.

TeamCasey
03-11-2005, 07:38 PM
Sometimes you guys make it sound like college is an option for everyone. I came from a single parent household. My mom was a nurse. She made too much for me to qualify for aid, which wasn't much. I tried hard for work-study, but no deal. I would have washed dishes in the cafeteria for a break. I couldn't get one ...... not even for used books. Not poor enough for aid, not wealthy enough to get the education I could have had. I did O.K., but it was a pull myself up by the bootstraps journey.

I went to college and ended up with a good career ...... but I'm smart enough and could have gone a heck of a lot further if I had more options at the time.

I'm not whining, but I do think the middleman often falls through the cracks.

Red Heeler
03-12-2005, 08:32 AM
Sometimes you guys make it sound like college is an option for everyone. I came from a single parent household. My mom was a nurse. She made too much for me to qualify for aid, which wasn't much. I tried hard for work-study, but no deal. I would have washed dishes in the cafeteria for a break. I couldn't get one ...... not even for used books. Not poor enough for aid, not wealthy enough to get the education I could have had. I did O.K., but it was a pull myself up by the bootstraps journey.

I went to college and ended up with a good career ...... but I'm smart enough and could have gone a heck of a lot further if I had more options at the time.

I'm not whining, but I do think the middleman often falls through the cracks.

TC, at this point, paying for education should not be an issue for anyone who wants to go to college. The requirement for getting student loans is the ability to fog a mirror when held closely to the nostrils.

FCB has a very good point about some people not valuing education. There is a subculture in our society that not only does not value education, but actively distrusts it.

We need to do a much better job of education. A part of this is to do a better job of stressing the value of education. Kids that are in school right now are bombarded with "don't drink and drive" and "don't smoke or do drugs." They are nearly programmed with that stuff. We need to add "must get an education." to that programming.

I also think that vocational training should have a higher priority in our educational system. There are always going to be people who are not talented enough academically to go to college. Nothing wrong with that. However, they would be well served to learn a trade while in high school. Not many electricians, plumbers, mechanics, heavy machinery operators, etc. being outsourced to India, either.

Rojo
03-14-2005, 02:32 PM
A part of this is to do a better job of stressing the value of education.

OK, let's go with this. You stress education. You're 100% successful and everyone gets a master's degree. Now, who works at Walmart? And how much do lawyers and engineers and nurses make now that there are millions and millions more that have the training? Supply and demand.

And let's not confuse the personal with the political. Naturally, I'll stress education for my son, so that he doesn't have to work at Walmart. That doesn't mean I won't support the workplace rights of those who do have to work there.

And, really, these people aren't asking for a hand-out. To my understanding, in our society, you use what you got to get what you can. Low wage workers are doing just that by using the only tool they have, collective bargaining.

Johnny Footstool
03-14-2005, 03:00 PM
OK, let's go with this. You stress education. You're 100% successful and everyone gets a master's degree. Now, who works at Walmart? And how much do lawyers and engineers and nurses make now that there are millions and millions more that have the training? Supply and demand.

Flip side. The government sets minimum wage at $30K per year. What happens to the economy then? Retailers have to boost prices and employers have to start paying lawyers, nurses, engineers, and everyone else more and more. Suddenly $30K isn't enough to live on, so the government has to boost minimum wage once again.

Roy Tucker
03-14-2005, 03:31 PM
UNIONS VS. WAL-MART
Up Against the Wal-Mart
Think your job is tough? Meet the people whose task it is to unionize the world’s biggest company.
FORTUNE
Monday, May 3, 2004
By Cora Daniels


It is a little before 11 p.m. in Las Vegas, and despite the seductive universe of slot machines and sex, Maurice Miller is out cruising Wal-Mart parking lots. Again.

“By midnight that lot will be f-u-l-l,” he huffs in his Texas twang. He flicks the cigarette permanently nestled between his thick fingers and points out the window at the rows upon rows of cars. It doesn’t seem as though the overflowing parking lot can be any fuller than it already is. The 16 Wal-Marts in Vegas are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That means Miller, 49, a self-described short, fat man with a wild salt-and-pepper beard, diamond studs in both ears, and an I-don't-take-any-crap attitude, never gets a break from one of the toughest jobs around. He is a full-time union organizer, and his mission is to convince Wal-Mart employees that they should join the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers). So he is always searching for workers—in parking lots and beyond—who might want to talk. Tonight he sees no likely prospects. Maybe tomorrow he’ll have better luck.

Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest employer, and not a single one of its 1.3 million workers ("associates" in Wal-Martese) is a union member. Changing that statistic, some union leaders argue, is the labor movement’s most important challenge right now. “If we want to survive,” says Stewart Acuff, organizing director of the AFL-CIO, “labor has no choice but to organize Wal-Mart.” Though individual unions usually do not band together across turf lines for organizing drives, discussions are now underway across the labor community about what they call “the Wal-Mart problem.” "What they do affects the standard of living across the globe," explains Acuff, referring to the retailer’s ability to force competitors to move their wages and prices downward to compete. “In essence, Wal-Mart is a third-party negotiator at every bargaining table.”

This may be the ultimate labor vs. company battle—a battle that the weakened labor movement desperately needs to win. For a rare inside look, FORTUNE spent ten days—the length of a union organizer’s shift—shadowing people like Miller who are working on “the Wal-Mart problem.” There are 12 of them, men and women living hundreds of miles from their spouses and children, slogging through days that are exhausting, lonely, and mind-numbingly boring. What’s worse, even though the organizers have been camped out in Vegas for almost five years, buttonholing as many Wal-Mart associates as they possibly can, they still haven’t succeeded in unionizing a single store. Despite all their dedication, they may well be fighting a battle they just can’t win.

The campaign against the discount chain really started with Maurice Miller. Miller is something of a celebrity in the Wal-Mart labor movement, because he is responsible for the only modest success that the UFCW has had with the company. In 1999 he was a meat cutter at a Wal-Mart in Jacksonville, Texas; his wedding band sits on the stump of the ring finger on his left hand. That year, Miller says, Wal-Mart denied him a promotion into management that he had been promised. (A Wal-Mart spokesperson says the company does not comment on individual employment matters.) Frustrated, Miller asked his brother-in-law, an electrician in Kentucky, what he would do about it. The brother-in-law said he would file a grievance with his union.

“What do you do if you don’t have a union?” Miller asked.

“You start one,” his brother-in-law answered.

That night Miller sat at his computer and searched for unions. He came across the UFCW, which represents 1.4 million workers, mostly in grocery and retail stores. He signed a union card a few days later. (To unionize a workplace, 30% of workers must sign cards calling for an election held by the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB. Unions usually won’t call an election, though, unless at least half of the workers sign cards; they want to ensure a win.) Within a couple of months Miller had persuaded the rest of the meat cutters at his store to sign cards too. In February 2000 the department became the first in the chain to vote to establish a union. And with that, the labor movement had its toe in Wal-Mart.

Two weeks later Wal-Mart disbanded its meat-cutting departments nationwide. It now supplies its stores with prepackaged meat. Wal-Mart maintains that the move was in the works before the union drive. But the move galvanized the UFCW. The union decided to attack Wal-Mart in Las Vegas, which is a strong union town. In the spring of 2000 it began flying organizers there from across the country. Bill Meyer, 52, a veteran UFCW organizer who leads the Vegas campaign, arrived that spring and never left. He found the task in Vegas to be “monumental.” News of what had happened to the Texas meat cutters had had a chilling effect. And Wal-Mart’s culture was so strong that organizers unfamiliar with the company language and traditions were not making a dent. So in 2001 the union took the unusual step of relying almost exclusively on former Wal-Mart workers, even former Wal-Mart managers, to lead the campaign. Folks like take-no-crap Miller.

But Miller and his compatriots face formidable hurdles. For one thing, Wal-Mart is a very sophisticated adversary. According to Cornell University’s office of labor research, 74% of U.S. employers currently wage moderate to extremely aggressive anti-union campaigns, Wal-Mart among them. While spokesperson Christi Gallagher maintains that the company is “pro-associate, not anti-union,” Wal-Mart does everything from asking store managers to call a 24-hour hotline at the slightest sign of union activity to flying a ten-person labor team into stores to talk to employees. For another, Wal-Mart—like most retailers—has a large part-time, transient workforce; that’s one reason retail has one of the lowest rates of unionization of any sector of the economy, hovering just under 5%. Many Wal-Mart employees work in Southern states where unionism isn’t widely understood or embraced. And while many Wal-Mart workers undoubtedly want a union, none of them has stepped up to be the next Maurice Miller. Al Zack, the lead strategizer of the union’s Wal-Mart campaign, who works from UFCW headquarters in Washington, D.C., gives this a positive spin: “All they are waiting for is for someone else to go first.”

Union organizers are the foot soldiers of the labor movement. They spend their lives on the road, sleeping in aging hotels like the Frontier in Vegas, earning $35,000 to $60,000 a year (more than many Wal-Mart hourly employees make, but much less than many store managers do) and often working way past the sacred eight-hour day. In Las Vegas the UFCW’s Wal-Mart organizers work ten-day shifts, then fly back to their homes in different parts of the country for four days at a time. Jon Lehman, 43, a former Wal-Mart manager, sees his wife and three children in Louisville just 72 days a year. On one flight back home, he says, “This is when I really start to miss my kids.”

The organizers' days officially begin at about 9 a.m., when they huddle in Meyer’s dingy suite at the Frontier for their daily strategy meeting. (Miller already looks tired. He started making calls at 6 a.m. to workers coming off the night shift or to those on the East Coast who have reached out to the union.) But most of the organizers' time is spent driving nondescript rental cars to areas far from the strip, knocking on doors where no one ever seems to be home, or cruising Wal-Mart parking lots that always seem to be full. On the road their cellphones ring constantly with calls from workers, loved ones, and one another ("Lunch at the Palms buffet?").

It frequently takes five to six hours of knocking on doors before an organizer makes it inside a single house. “It is the same thing every day,” admits Miller as he leaves an unmarked brown-paper bag of union materials at the door of a worker who’s not home. The union’s literature, updated since the arrival of the former Wal-Mart workers, quotes Sam Walton—never mind that Walton openly disliked unions—and pleads with associates to unionize to bring their store up to the standards that “Mr. Sam” would have wanted.

The boredom can be intense. “Oh, please, something happen,” organizer Gretchen Adams, 57, sighs one afternoon behind the wheel. Four years ago Adams was a store manager in Florida with a reputation for speaking up for workers, which she says did not make her a favorite with top brass. Unbeknown to her, her husband got in touch with the UFCW on her behalf, and the union sent her an e-mail at home. “I got so scared,” she says. “I was convinced Wal-Mart would find out and I would lose my job.” A month later, she finally responded to the e-mail; in 2001 she quit and signed on as an organizer, taking a pay cut that, she says, was “in the tens of thousands.”

It’s 6:30 p.m., and Adams and her partner, Mary Lou Wagoner, haven’t been inside a house all day. They knock on yet another door, a gray one on the second floor of an apartment complex. Success! A slight woman in her 60s, wearing a housedress and slippers, appears. She’s a Wal-Mart associate who works nights, and she invites them to sit down in her tiny kitchenette. As easy-listening jazz plays at a deafening volume, the woman spends much of the next two hours venting about her boss. “I can’t take the favoritism anymore,” she says softly, looking past the organizers into a small living room covered in floral prints and frilly doilies. They nod their heads in support and barely utter a word. ("Most workers just want someone to listen," Adams tells me later.)

When the associate says that her recent “eval” (Wal-Mart-speak for evaluation) was unfair, Adams asks her, “Did you get a copy of it?”

The associate’s eyes get big. “You serious? I can get that?”

“You should get a copy of anything you sign,” advises Adams. “Start a folder with all that paperwork.”

“I can get a copy of my eval? Really,” the woman repeats, still in disbelief.

By 9 p.m., tired and hungry, the organizers get up to leave. And they finally come to the point of their visit: Adams asks the associate if there are others in her department who might be ready to sign union cards. (The woman has already signed one.) The associate names a few and promises to talk with them.

It is hard to imagine Cesar Chavez, whose impassioned speeches helped unionize migrant farmers, or Wyndham Mortimer, whose massive sit-down strikes shut down assembly lines at GM, having days like this.

The UFCW used to be more in-your-face. “In the old days we’d be chanting and protesting in the parking lot,” says organizer Stan Fortune. “Now we are less confrontational and more covert.” They have adopted this under-the-radar approach partly because they say Wal-Mart workers are too frightened to speak to them openly and partly because they don’t want Wal-Mart to know the number of union card signers at any given store. If a company knows that more than 30% of workers have signed and therefore a vote is close, says Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell, the easiest way to prevent that from happening is to flood a store with more bodies—"packing the unit," as the tactic is known. The 30% then drops to, say, 20%—and the organizers have to recruit another 10%. Wal-Mart denies doing that.

When organizers do venture into stores, they often pose as shoppers, pushing carts and discreetly nodding to workers who have signed cards. It doesn’t always work. Store managers frequently throw the organizers out. But even that is discreet. On a recent venture to a Vegas store, organizer Lehman gets out just a few hellos to workers before declaring, “We are being stalked.” Since his head never seems to look anywhere but straight down the empty aisle, I’m convinced he’s paranoid. But out of nowhere, one of the store’s managers appears. The two exchange pleasantries the way co-workers do who have to tolerate each other: Lehman compliments the manager on losing a little weight; the manager says politely, “Thank you for noticing.” Then the manager asks Lehman to leave. It is back to the car. Lehman hasn’t talked to a single new face today about the union.

Some of the most fervent organizers are the newest converts—like Larry Allen, 48. Allen was an associate in a Vegas store in 2001 when Miller persuaded him to sign a union card. “The first day I walked into Wal-Mart with a union button, everything changed,” says Allen. “In one day I went from being employee of the month to people not speaking to me.” Last summer Wal-Mart fired Allen for solicitation; the company says that he was handing union literature to a co-worker in the store’s break room. Allen denies it. The union claims that Wal-Mart fired him in order to quash an upcoming NLRB election there. (After investing 14 long months of work at the store, Miller says he had accumulated nearly enough card signers to call an election.) Wal-Mart says that’s not so. The labor board is now hearing Allen’s case. Meanwhile, Allen has paired up with Miller to organize full-time.

“How are you doing?” Allen says enthusiastically to every person wearing a blue Wal-Mart vest who passes him in the parking lot early one afternoon. (Miller hangs back quietly; he has cruised these parking lots so often that he recognizes the managers' cars and has already told Allen the coast is clear.) Most associates hurry past. Allen’s UFCW T-shirt makes it obvious what he’d like to talk about. When he does get a nod back from one middle-aged woman, he hands her what he says is “interesting reading material.” He watches her walk away, then cheers: She made it past the trash can without throwing the union pamphlet away. “Got one!” Allen exults.

It is a reminder that the organizers exist in a world where victories are subtle. Stan Fortune, 47, who was a cop before working for Wal-Mart for 14 years, spends much of his time tracking down internal company documents—such as pay scales or anti-union memos—that might strengthen the union’s argument with workers. Usually workers give him the materials, sometimes anonymously. Fortune has gotten into the habit of keeping his car window cracked whenever he parks in a Wal-Mart lot: “It is amazing what [documents] people will slip inside.”

To break up the document digging, once every six weeks Fortune makes the two-hour drive from Vegas to Kingman, Ariz., to speak to associates at his old store, taking in postcard views of Hoover Dam along the way. “Look at it!” he marvels as he steers the wheel with his knees so that he can drink a can of Coca-Cola mixed with peanuts. Kingman is too small to have a UFCW union hall, so Fortune usually meets workers at a local Mexican restaurant on Route 66. The waitresses, who are used to seeing him, usher him to a private room in the back. The room is loud: Bright colors are everywhere, and a train rumbles by right outside the open window. Two associates are waiting. Fortune’s cellphone rings; a third associate won’t be able to make it this time. The scene is a world away from Vegas, but the talk is the same: Workers want respect and better benefits; the union says it can help. “We have to get the fence sitters,” Fortune tells them, referring to associates who are still iffy about signing union cards. “It is going to take patience.”

Though the organizers acknowledge that five years is a long time to wage a union campaign, they don’t talk about any other outcome but winning. “We know we are not going to have any immediate results,” says Meyer. “But we are building a movement. Women’s suffrage took decades; the civil rights movement took a century. We are looking at something similar with Wal-Mart.” But some observers question how long the UFCW realistically can keep at it. Because of the grocery worker strike it waged in California from October 2003 to February 2004, the union is strapped for cash—and the Vegas effort is costing some $3 million a year. In April, UFCW strategizer Zack was debating whether to lay off one or two of the 12 Wal-Mart organizers to save money. Even if the union did have bottomless pockets, the odds of success would be long. “No one can do it [unionize Wal-Mart] alone,” says Ruth Milkman, director of the institute for labor and employment at the University of California. “It needs a full-fledged multi-union effort.” So far, that hasn’t materialized.

In the meantime, Gretchen Adams has more doors to knock on. Stan Fortune has more documents to hunt. Maurice Miller has more parking lots to cruise. On the tenth day of the shift, they have planes to get on so that they can see their families.

And in four days it will all start again.

Feedback: cdaniels@fortunemail.com

Rojo
03-14-2005, 04:06 PM
The government sets minimum wage at $30K per year. What happens to the economy then?

I didn't mention the minimum wage. Non-union Walmarters earn an average $10/hr, unionized Costco employees earn $16/hr and don't need taxpayer money to survive.

Rojo
03-14-2005, 04:09 PM
I was fired once for trying to organize for the UFCW. All it takes is one "candy-ass" (in the parlance) to run to management and your done for.

Johnny Footstool
03-14-2005, 04:37 PM
I didn't mention the minimum wage.

Not per se, but we were talking about low-end wage earners, and the minimum wage is essential to that discussion.


Costco employees earn $16/hr and don't need taxpayer money to survive.

Then it sounds like Wal-Mart employees should be filling out Costco applications.