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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Wal-Mart Awareness Week

Vermont is known outside of its borders as a skiing haven, a bastion of liberal attitudes, home of Ben & Jerry's, containing the only state capital without a McDonalds, and for it's resistance to Wal-Mart. I remember watching a video at college in 1998 that highlighted how and why the green mountain state was fighting so hard to keep the world's largest retailer from setting up shop. At the time of the video Vermont was the last state without a Wal-Mart.

The overriding issue with this retailer (which has been the most aggressive of the "big box stores") is that competition from Wal-Mart destroys small businesses, particularly the "mom and pop" stores that traditionally make communities unique. Since Wal-Mart began moving into additional retail areas, such as groceries, opticals and flowers, this has become an even larger issue. Wal-Mart has also been regularly criticized for its staunch policies against organized labor, hiring of illegal immigrants, the cost of employment on its workers, and the strain that it puts on the local tax base. To highlight some significant facts, their definition of a full-time employee is working 34 hours per week which excludes most benefits and the average wage for the most common jobs is $4.31 BELOW Vermont's livable wage. The bottom line is that the tax payers are subsidizing Wal-Mart's substandard payment to its workers, by necessitating health care and housing to be payed through the government. Of the 421 Vermont big box retail workers who accessed Medicaid last year, 286 were Wal-Mart employees - 68%.

Currently there are four Wal-Mart's in Vermont, three of them range in size from 75,000 to 85,000 square feet and have been designed with the input of the community and all are located within the commercial sectors (two are in downtowns and the third took the place of a defunct Jamesway within the Berlin Mall). The fourth, built in the town of Williston in January 1997, was the first large, 150,000 square-foot, Wal-Mart in Vermont. Not long after, Williston saw other "big-box" stores (Home Depot, Toys "R" Us, Linen's 'n Things, Circuit City, Bed Bath and Beyond, Best Buy, etc) move in next door.

In May 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation put Vermont on its "endangered" list amid fears that Wal-Mart was planning a big expansion in the state. Richard Moe, president of the trust, told the New York Times, "We know the effects that these superstores have. They tend to suck the economic and social life out of these downtowns, many of which whither and die as a result. I think it will drastically affect the character of Vermont, which I think is quite unique."

The Vermont Livable Wage Campaign (VLWC) is coordinating with the national Wal-Mart Awareness Week (Nov 13-20) effort by organizing screenings of Robert Greenwald’s latest film Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. The progressive documentarian's previous works include the Un trilogy (Uncovered: The War on Iraq, Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties, and Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election) and Outfoxed. His latest documentary is purported to be "a powerful exposé on the toll the Wal-Mart behemoth has taken on workers and communities across the country, and how we can help turn the tide."

Last Tuesday's New York Times ran an article by Micahel Barbaro entitled A New Weapon for Wal-Mart: A War Room, which described how Wal-Mart is taking a page from the modern political playbook. Under fire from well-organized opponents who have hammered the retailer with criticisms of its wages, health insurance and treatment of workers, Wal-Mart has quietly recruited former presidential advisers, including Michael K. Deaver, who was Ronald Reagan's image-meister, and Leslie Dach, one of Bill Clinton's media consultants, to set up a rapid-response public relations team in Arkansas.

I'm not sure if it'll have the impact of Roger & Me, but the documentary must be something for Wal-Mart to take such an offensive. Decide for yourself at these screenings in central Vermont's twin cities:

Montpelier

  • Sunday, Nov. 13, 3 p.m. — Unitarian Church
  • Thursday, Nov. 17, 6:30 p.m. — Langdon Street Cafe

Barre

  • Friday, Nov. 18, 6 p.m. — Aldrich Public Library

Trailer: WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price.mov

And please take a listen to this ridiculousness. You'll be singing "we sure did learn a lot...in that Wal-Mart parking lot" all day long:

Chris Cagle(!) - Wal-Mart Parking Lot.mp3

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