Thursday, November 03, 2005

YNY Sells BJ's: Disinformation Hard to Swallow

In a letter that was forwarded to us (excuse the low quality of the fax), Joni Yoswein of the lobbying firm YNY attempts to counteract the "unfortunate spread of falsehoods" about the labor practices of BJ's Wholesale Club. In the process, citing comments of The Neighborhood Retail Alliance, she claims that the fight against this club store is exclusively a proxy for the dissatisfaction with Wal-Mart and has little to do with BJ's itself. All of which is patented nonsense.

While the union issues will be addressed directly by Pat Purcell of the UFCW and Kirk Swanson of the RWDSU, suffice it to say that the Yoswein charges are factually erroneous as well as downright slanderous. The whole controversy began last year when two workers from BJ's at the store's East New York location (both involved with the UFCW's organizing drive) were arrested and accused of shoplifting.

The counterintuitive coincidence that the women in question, both African-American and leaders of the unionizing effort, would involve themselves in shoplifting is exacerbated by the fact that this was not the first time that BJ's had used questionable tactics to prevent unionization.

In fact, in a similar drive at their Middle Village store the company paid a $10,000 compensation to a worker that it had fired who was, again coincidentally, also a union leader. What is indisputable in the East New York case is that the two accused employees were humiliated, lied to, held incommunicado and perp walked across the store floor as an example for their fellow workers.

Prior to the incident, the UFCW had a comfortable majority of the BJ's workers in favor of unionization. So egregious was the whole affair that Councilman Charles Barron, joined by Councilwoman Tracey Boyland and State Senator Sampson, led a community protest march against the store.

It's All About BJ's

The defeat of the Brush Avenue BJ's last year was based on a number of compelling reasons (as we outline in our campaign section). Two of the key variables involved economic impact and traffic. On the economic issue the fact that the largest food store proposed for the Bronx, one that would likely generate over $60 million a year in food business, was not required to do an economic impact study was seen by councilmembers, particularly Annabel Palma who represents the contiguous area that would be most impacted, as rendering the application deficient (Palma particularly was concerned with the store's impact on the Hispanic-owned food stores in her district).

On the traffic front the council took note of the fact that the consultants for BJ's had failed to analyze the traffic impacts resulting from the five year reconstruction of the Unionport Bridge, the key access point to the project. In addition, Palma was concerned that traffic congestion in her district along the Bruckner was given short-shrift, a serious issue in a neighborhood suffering from a severe asthma epidemic.

And yes there was a genuine concern among councilmembers about the labor practices of BJ's. This is not simply a case of using BJ's as a Wal-Mart surrogate. The fact is that the BJ's business model is a direct emulation of its more successful cousin, right down to its virulently anti-labor policies. What this does mean, however, is that any approval given to a BJ's is a tacit approval of cousin Wal-Mart.

What Does This All Mean?

The attempt to resurrect and sanitize BJ's is going to backfire precisely because it is built on a slimy string of slanderous misinformation. Frankly, YNY should be ashamed of its conduct and be careful of the labor blowback. At the very least Joni Yoswein should have vetted the misinformation before cavalierly using it in print to slander the UFCW and RWDSU locals.

Look for labor and the Alliance to fire back. The backlash will be a lot more potent than YNY's lame attempt to misrepresent what happened in Charles Barron's district last year. In the end, the truth about BJ’s abysmal labor policies will have important repercussions, not only on Brush Avenue, but for the entire fiasco at the Bronx Terminal Market (Stay Tuned!).