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GUEST OPINION: Wal-Mart fight is about labor unions

By ALBERTA CARTER
Alberta Carter is a resident of Sebastopol.

Martin J. Bennett’s Close to Home column regarding the proposed Wal-Mart expansion in Rohnert Park used convenient and buzzworthy arguments about why he opposes the project (“Wal-Mart expansion a threat to transit-oriented development”).

Unfortunately, those arguments are not based in fact.

Bennett wants the public to believe that a growing business, new jobs and the potential for new sales tax revenue are somehow a danger to the city of Rohnert Park. In truth, the agenda of Bennett and his financial backers is not the well-being of the Rohnert Park community. He cares only about dragging the name of a longtime Rohnert Park business through the mud because its employees are not unionized.

His tactics are well-choreographed, but he failed to acknowledge the facts in his recently published opinion piece.

Bennett argues that expanding the existing Rohnert Park Wal-Mart store — a store that has been in the community for almost 18 years — would undermine transit-oriented development in Sonoma County. By expanding, Wal-Mart is not getting in the way of sustainability. In fact, it is encouraging it.

One of the objectives, as noted in the environmental impact report, is to “capitalize on the project site’s proximity to the planned Rohnert Park SMART station by providing transit, bicycle and pedestrian amenities to facilitate convenient and safe access.” Wal-Mart actually plans to add new amenities to make the store more appealing to folks who don’t drive.

Bennett also refers to an “analysis” by Robert Eyler, a Sonoma State University professor. Pacific Market commissioned this report, so it is not surprising that it would back up the viewpoints of those opposed to Wal-Mart. In the report, Eyler suggests that a number of regional and national vendors would be put out of business by Wal-Mart’s expansion. I doubt that Pacific Market is single-handedly keeping any of its vendors afloat.

The Wal-Mart store in Rohnert Park has provided affordable, quality goods to Sonoma County residents for almost two decades. At this time, customers like me are looking for new ways to save so that we can better provide for our families. The addition of grocery items — including local produce — would benefit members of our community most in need.

The true motivation for Bennett’s opposition to this expansion is a desire to prohibit competition and consumer choice. Hopefully, the Rohnert Park City Council will see through the facade and vote to approve the Wal-Mart expansion.

The council hearing on Wal-Mart’s expansion plan is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at Rohnert Park City Hall.





25 Responses to “GUEST OPINION: Wal-Mart fight is about labor unions”

  1. Sheila Jackson says:

    Brass tacks spewed something about smart growth and United Nation Agenda 21 and black helicopters in her last rant. I’m sure she’ll be in trouble for mentioning the connection between smartgrowth and Agenda 21. The progressives like to keep that a secret and pretend it doesn’t exist. Most of the cities in the northbay belong to ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives) and pay dues with taxpayer’s money. This NGO (non-govermental organization) is tasked with implementing the United Nations Agenda 21 Sustainable Development plan. It’s behind all the social engineering we see with smartgrowth, urban growth boundaries, transit oriented mixed-use development, rails and trails, high-density development along train lines, bikes instead of cars, carbon tax, everything.

    But people have been kept in the dark about Agenda 21 for years. All you have to do is google U.N. Agenda 21 or ICLEI and it is all right there. Also check out the Wildlands Project and find out what they have in store for us. ICLEI just got an $83,000 contract with Sonoma County for consulting. Please educate yourself on this very important issue.

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  2. Janet in Cotati says:

    The local “activists” like Bennett, Lisa Maldonado, Jack Buckhorn, Dennis Rossatti, Michael Allen, and Nick Caston are just carrying on a national fight over unionizing on the local level. They fund local political races and use their influence improperly to pressure local elected officials to vote against their favorite targets. They are thugs.

    Thank you Ms. Carter for speaking up.

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  3. Brass Tacks says:

    It is amazing to see what bats come flying out of the belfry when any mention of smart growth planning, transit-oriented development, living wage standards or citizen advocacy groups is posted.

    So far, the hyper-ventilating mouth-breathers have called it:
    A)A union-backed plot (is it still legal to belong to a union?)
    B)The democratic socialist playbook (BTW where can I get a copy?)
    C)UN Agenda 21 (cue black helicopters)

    Really folks, how can we take all this unhinged wing-nuttery seriously? I think this thread is now exhausted.

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  4. Zuma says:

    Your heard it here first! TRANSIT ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT!

    So now the liberals who decided to build a train that goes nowhere, and they dont have the money to pay for have now moved on to dictating where people build homes and put businesses!

    Next we will have “BICYCLE Oriented development”.

    How many people came to Taxihoma Cty because of the great transportation system it had?

    Howe did eastern Santa Rosa grow when there isnt a track to be seen there? Or did our planners not have “transit oriented development” in mind then? And what will they have in their mind 10 years from now? Anti illegal development? So Americans can expect to have their neighbors speaking english!

    Walmart succeeds because it provides what people want to buy at prices they can afford!

    Unfortunately our local officials have never provided the services those same people demand at prices they can afford!
    But that is just the attitude that brougt this county to near bankruptcy!

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  5. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    Noah;

    Thanks for your last post and acknowledging a few of my points. Overall, there is no simple breakdown or a single reason why the economy is where it’s at: Wal-Mart is not responsible for the banking mess, the real estate meltdown or the upcoming health care breakdown, etc. Wal-Mart is not responsible for my home being worth 40-45% less now than in 2006 and they aren’t responsible for the all-time highs of the unemployment rate. In fact, what would the rate be if Wal-Mart stores didn’t exist at all? And Wal-Mart isn’t responsible for the huge cuts in state and local employees being laid off or having their wages cut. People like to criticizes Wal-Mart for buying too many of their products from China, yet many of these people are the very people that have helped bring the American auto industry to its knees by having two Honda’s, Toyota’s, Lexus, or Hyundai’s and Kia’s in their driveway. It seems pretty hypocritical to me.

    No question that Wal-Mart isn’t the worlds ‘greatest employer’, but some of those ‘greatest employers’ are the ones who have done massive layoffs, furloughs and huge wage cuts. No one has to work at Wal-Mart and no one has to shop there either. It’s a choice, and one that all of us should have available to us. If no one wanted to work there, either the wages would go up or the store would close. If no one shopped there, the store would close. Wal-Mart pays more than many other employers and offers far more in flexible schedules, opportunities to advance, either with them or eventually taking that experience with you and moving on in the retail/business world. Why does every one use Wal-Mart as the poster child for everything wrong regarding wages and benefits, yet places like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, your local gas stations, etc, get a free pass? In the retail business, it’s common that the pay isn’t that high. How about all the stores at the outlet shopping malls, or how about all the multi-million dollar wineries in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties? What do you think they pay their employees, many of which aren’t even here legally.

    People like to tout how great the mom-and-pop businesses are; I remember working for one when I was in high school and for a awhile thereafter, paying me and others that worked there minimum wage the whole time, giving us an increase just a couple of weeks before a new, higher minimum wage went into effect. There was no medical and almost no opportunity to advance, as the owners and their children controlled and ran everything. But I stayed there because it worked for my schedule at that time and I learned about retail and customer service. When I was ready, I moved on, just like many at Wal-Mart do.

    Kind of hard for me to accept the criticism leveled at Wal-Mart from all the ‘do-gooders’ here based on my remarks mentioned above. In America, we promote chice: Wal-Mart should be able to expand for the rest of us that can’t afford higher-end stores.

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  6. Michael says:

    Noah,
    While I often disagree with you i appreciate your honesty and willing to exercise some critical thought, unfortunately that is missing from most of the posts on this site.

    However, I think you are misusing the term “conservative”. This is commonplace in America. Those in support of Walmart would best be described as liberal. I am not just playing semantics; if one picks up The Economist they would see that in the rest of the world liberals are those who are proponents of free market economics and liberty in general.
    Regards.

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  7. Noah says:

    @Ricardo Sorentino: Point taken.

    I do want to ask, weren’t the ideas I presented against Ms. Carter’s opinion representative of good reasoning? What kind of evidence could I have included beyond my (accurate) description of sustainability?

    I do agree with you though, I am rather in attack mode most of the time, and it doesn’t seem to be making much headway. I’m wondering if this site is a place where minds might be changed, or if my game is simply not good enough. My take is that I am too negative, and a lot of people here are already entrenched. Despite my own drawbacks, I would like to see some critical thinking and better reasoning, and less name calling.

    I especially appreciate the conservatives, with whom I disagree mostly, who do use thoughtfulness and logic; they give me a chance to think about things, to occupy a different point of view, which advances my own ideas. Without that, I see no progress to be made by anyone.

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  8. RPMOM says:

    Bottom line….the EIR commissioned by WM flies in the face of RP’s general plan. It doesn’t work with RP’s general plan. So, if you can’t play by the rules of RP then you have to pick up your toys and go home! No expansion. Period. The Planning Commission denied the expansion for just that reason. The City Council should back up their Planning Commission AND follow the general plan. Simple as that!

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  9. Brass Tacks says:

    “Wal-Mart is the lead locomotive in the race to the bottom for American workers”

    That’s why we call out Wal-Mart. They are the piranha thrown into the trout pond. Keep it out!

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  10. Lyn says:

    You nailed it, Michael. Wal-Mart is an open door to people who would otherwise likely be unemployment. The average work tenure at Wal-Mart is 1 year!

    Either it’s a very bad place to work or, more likely I think, people are using it to reenter the workforce, gain some experience, and then move on to something better.

    Nations that don’t have a version of Wal-Mart have high permanent unemployment. The political left has always used the underclass to fuel their anger, so maybe that’s what they want.

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  11. Michael says:

    I really don’t understand the hatred of Wal-Mart. They offer jobs to people who would likely otherwise be unemployed. No one is forced to work or shop there. If you don’t like Wal-Mart, don’t shop there. If they’re not paying enough, don’t work there. But do not tell me where to shop and how much money I should be willing to spend.

    To the point about how “little” Wal-Mart pays: that’s all relative. There are two ways to increase one’s wages: education and hard work.

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  12. Brass Tacks says:

    “Debate Score: Bennett 1 vs. Carter 0″

    The only thing this flimsy article has going for it was the rapidity of the response on the heels of Mr. Bennett’s well-written and well-researched Close to Home from last Sunday. Ms. Carter’s rush job piece is very poorly written, and fails to deliver a coherent line of argument from it’s initial hysterical premise to the sputtering, wheezing conclusion. If this was ghost-written by Wal-Mart’s consultants, they might consider assigning another staffer to the rapid response team. This one is not ready for prime time.

    It would be a C- on style and content alone, except that it fails the civility test by ascribing all manner of speculative nefarious motives to Mr. Bennett, with no substantiation. One of the lamest Close to Home articles that the PD has ever printed. Definitely a D-,charitably.

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  13. Free Market says:

    This is not about groceries. Walmart wants to expand its shelf space for all products. Walmart can easily remodel and remove other sections of its store, such as electronics or clothes, to increase grocery shelf space. If the Opinion Piece is correct, this would end the debate on the proposed Walmart expansion.
    Based on Census data and similar markets, Walmart can predict the future sales and profits of each item sold. It chooses not to increase grocery shelf space probably because the profit margin based on premium and volume of electronics is greater then groecery sales. In the last couple of years, market forces have eaten Mervyns, Comp USA, Circuit City, and the Good Guys. The restricted distribution channels for these products increases the number of impuslse/ convenience based purchasing who pay Walmart a premium. Ultimately, a Walmart can control a market which means less for consumers. This is the essence of a Monopoly.
    For very few dollars compared to store profits, Walmart can install bike/pedistrian friendly amenities. A remodel of a center does not require an expansion of the particular store.
    Less wages equals less consumer spending power. This also translates into lower propertly/home values because loans are tied to income. While non-disposable items such as electronics are subject to global competetion, grocery sales are not. They are a kitchen table topic that creates a heated debate.
    If the only grocery store in town was a small botique that charged premium prices, would a Walmart be more appropraite?

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  14. sam zuech says:

    sroldtimer: put your money where your mouth is, go spend your bucks at Pacific Market et all; I will spend mine where it is most beneficial for me and the place I spend it: Wal-Mart! No wonder union membership is in a downhill spiral.
    Unions could care less about low income and working people. But what is even more astounding are the liars in academia who are nothing but union stooges.

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  15. Andy says:

    Wow it’s really amazing how many no-nothings will come out of the woodwork to fight for the right to buy cheap, toxic lead filled toys and bad food ! Wal Mart is well known as a blight all across the country for its substandard wages (encouraging its workers to go in public assistance for medical care) and for importing poisonous toxic unregulated toys that are manufactured in China. They have lost many lawsuits for employment discrimination and wage theft as well. The only millionaires they have made are in their own family while helping to destroy the planet and exploiting workers as they do so. The fact is allowing them to expand and sell groceries won’t add a single cent to the city because those items aren’t taxed. Ms Hunter has a right to her opinion but her arguments are unconvincing.

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  16. Political Scientist says:

    Steve: I googled “walmart wages” and this is what came up. Take it or leave it.

    “A 2005 study found that Walmart’s entry into a metropolitan area eliminates similar jobs that pay about 18% more than Walmart. In those areas, the total average earnings of retail workers by 0.5 to 0.8%1.”
    Footnote:
    *Dube, Arindrajit and Steve Wertheim, October 2005. “Walmart and Job Quality—What Do We Know, and Should We Care?” http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/retail/walmart_jobquality.pdf.

    “Walmart’s national average wage of $11.75 an hour2 is 2.5% below the average wage of $12.04/hour for Retail Sales persons, the largest retail industry occupation, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)3.”
    Footnotes:
    *Nationwide average Walmart wages from “Corporate Facts: Walmart By the Numbers,” Walmart fact sheet dated February 2010. http://walmartstores.com/FactsNews/FactSheets/
    *Mean hourly wage rate for Retail Salespersons, obtained from Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, May 2008, available at: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm

    “Walmart’s average wage of $11.75/hour translates into annual pay of $20,7744. This is almost 6% below the Federal Poverty Level of $22,050 for a family of four.”
    Footnote:
    4.The calculation assumes that a full-time Walmart worker works an average of 34 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. The average of 34 hours a week is obtained from an internal Walmart memo http://www.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/business/26walmart.pdf

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  17. Dave Gladstone says:

    Anybody who favors expansion of, let alone the opening of, Wal-Mart does not understand or know the facts or chooses to ignore them.

    Wal-Mart’s negative effects on communities are well-documented, and the positive effects are nearly non-existent.

    But like numerous other facts in our society, it is ignored for the cheap and easy route.

    This article offers no facts to support it beyond a sentiment. Weak article.

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  18. Steve says:

    I’m confused. A point against WalMart’s expansion is that Walmart’s owners don’t live in the area. Safeway is a public company just like Walmart. Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s…shall I continue? Big bad Walmart is the target. We pay higher and higher sales taxes in the county to support higher and higher fees (pensions). They tell us to cut back on water and when we do, we pay highers rates…why? Because revenue is lower due to less comsumption (huh?!?). There is always an angle, union pressure controls this state and most likely controls the county also.

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  19. Alan Richards says:

    Forget the single-mom, the little guy, and struggling family for the sake of Big Union.
    Big Union is the cause of many of our financial woes, and wait until we have to start funding all the gov’t union’s unfunded pensions. We’ll make Greece look like civil disobedience.

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  20. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    It’s really simple here, folks: put your money where your mouth is. If you want to shop local, for whatever your reasons, and pay higher prices, great. Others that want to shop at Wal-Mart should be allowed to; no one but yourself dictates where you decide to shop and how you spend your money.

    As to Noah, who states ‘show me the evidence’: guess the same can be said to you. (That’s EVIDENCE, Noah, not your propaganda to promote your agenda.) As another post states, people like you are always claiming the sky is falling yet it never does. It amazes me that a company, at least according to you, can be so bad and yet they are the largest employer in the United States. That statistic alone must really bother you; I wonder why so many people choose to work at Wal-Mart and thousands more shop there? Maybe we should close both Wal-Mart stores in Sonoma County and you can put all those people to work for $15 an hour and full medical. No, you can’t do that?

    You certainly spend a lot of time on the PD in attack mode. Hopefully someday you’ll accomplish something positive from being overly critical of others’ views and opinions.

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  21. Dan says:

    Expanding Wal-Mart to include groceries exchanges good paying jobs at local grocery stores for low paying jobs at a national big box. Specialty items will be harder to find because they will not make it on the shelf due to profit margin items. In other words selection will be generic. Stores that would normally offer selection that appeals to locals will find it harder to compete with the generic giant and the community’s standards will suffer. Meanwhile everyone currently in the grocery business is at risk of lower wages or no job at all, while the Walton family and their investors realize record profits in Arkansas.

    The fight against big box expansion is a legitimate one for those interested in local quality of life and wanting an economically stronger community. The only people benefiting from the expansion of Wal-Mart are the owners and executives of Wal-Mart , there is no benefits this expansion offers to the community.

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  22. Scott P says:

    Who Needs A Good Work Ethic With A Union!

    That’s right. Forget our countries founding principles of work harder than the other guy, have a better attitude than the other guy, better your self and that will lead to promotions and success. Forget those silly principles when you can be a Union Member and get guaranteed promotions just because your lazy butt shows up to work for years on end.

    Last time I checked, Walmart created a heck of a lot of millionaires and hundred thousand aires. Everyone who starts at the bottom with Walmart has the opportunity to advance with a great work ethic and attitude. Unfortunately, many Americans believe they should get raises as some sort of government entitlement.

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  23. Noah says:

    @Alberta Carter: I find most of your statements about Mr. Bennett unsupportable (not factual or provable). You make statements without offering proof of what you say, such as “Bennett wants the public to believe that a growing business, new jobs and the potential for new sales tax revenue are somehow a danger to the city of Rohnert Park,” and “In truth, the agenda of Bennett and his financial backers is not the well-being of the Rohnert Park community.” These are ridiculous statements to make about anyone. Just because you don’t like his opinions doesn’t mean he does not have the well-being of Rohnert Park in mind, and even if he didn’t have it in mind, how could you ever prove it? What evidence can you give that clearly supports that contention? Couldn’t he say the same thing about you, with equally insufficient merit?

    Your ideas seem incongruous with reality. Most noticeable to me was “By expanding, Wal-Mart is not getting in the way of sustainability. In fact, it is encouraging it.” Really? Wal-Mart’s expansion encourages sustainability?

    Sustainability, regarding food, which Wal-Mart wants to sell in their expanded store, involves having food grown close to the consumers, so it is fresher and reduces travel-caused pollution. Wal-Mart’s business model represents the opposite of this-making sustainability harder to reach, not easier, because they have huge contracts with out of county, out of state, out of country producers and shipping agents rather than growing food here, and bringing it directly to market.

    Further, it would mean more money taken out of our county-the profits would go to absentee business owners (Wal-Mart’s owners don’t live here, do they?). I think it would be better to have local businesses, which I believe (but don’t have facts to support) would create more jobs than Wal-Mart’s expansion. And better paying ones too.

    For me, your opinion lacks credibility. Give me facts, or a good argument which makes sense, if you want to sway me.

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  24. beefmcwin says:

    I agree with the author that allowing Wal-Mart to expand will ultimately be good for all the businesses in the area near the SMART train station. The crowd of shoppers at the Wal-Mart will increase traffic to all the businesses in the area, maximizing revenues to Rohnert Park and shopping freedoms to area residents.
    The anti Wal-Mart crowd has been crying that the sky is falling for the last 30 years, but it hasn’t, and buying groceries at Wal-Mart won’t make it happen.

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  25. sroldtimer says:

    Here we go again! Alberta is another one of those “the lowest price possible – at any cost” folks. She talks about the nearly 20 years that Wal-Mart has been in RP as though it was a good thing! Twenty years of cheating employees out of decent pay and benefits; twenty years of shipping profits to Arkansas. Yeh! They’re great for the community! As long as you don’t give a crap about your community and the people in it. Alberta, spend a few pennies and help make this a better place to live instead of looking for the absolute cheapest price for yourself and to hell with everyone else!

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