Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Wal-Mart's Class Witt

Over at the Brooklyn Paper a reporter named Steve Witt mangles any number of facts about the impact of Wal-Mart on retail wages. Witt, shooting for a nickname of "Half," makes the claim that Wal-Mart isn't half as bad as some of the union claims made about the giant retailer: "If Target can do it, so can we. That is the message Walmart sent this week in its latest salvo against unionized labor as part of its advancement into Brooklyn. “A majority of national retail is non-union,” said Steven Restivo, Walmart’s director of community affairs. “When you look at retail and what we offer employees, we’re very competitive to both full-time and part-time workers.”

Now supporting bad behavior with reference to other bad behavior isn't the best argument one can make for a cause-but in giving the Walmonster a comfortable platform, Witt goes on to make some grievous errors-beginning with making a comparison between the world's largest retailer and a neighborhood hardware store: "Perhaps, but the Mom and Pop stores that Walmart supposedly destroys are certainly not paragons of high pay. At American Housewares on Court Street in Downtown Brooklyn, full-time workers get $500 for a six-day workweek."

So we should bring in ten Wal-Marts and totally decimate the city's neighborhood shopping strips that support the quality of life and public safety of hundreds of local communities? Destroy the rung on the ladder for entreprenuers-many minority store owners-so that the world's largest discriminator against women employees can continue to exploit its female work force? All of this from a local Brooklyn paper. Shame on it!

And the cutesy use of the phrase, "supposedly destroys," is just a further example of how the Brookllyn Paper has approached the Wal-Mart issue with a rather jaundiced perspective. For those who want a more in-depth look at the devastation that the Walmonster brings to small retailers, see our "Conservative Case Against Wal-Mart."

But Witt is right in one thing he discusses-the national retailers are joining Wal-Mart in the race to the bottom; and there needs to be a concerted effort to address this issue. Which is why there will be a strong campaign for living wage launched in the coming weeks. People simply can't live in NYC on the wages that retail is paying. But Wal-Mart is the unfortunate pacesetter in the race to the bottom-as the RW's Stuart Appelbaum told the paper: "Walmart may create jobs on the front end, but they erode them later,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the city’s retail, wholesale and department store union. “Union-busting, neighborhood-crushing Walmart forces out good jobs and reliable retailers while bringing down wages and benefits.”

Of course, one area that Witt doesn't get in to is food retailing-and there the wage comaprisons are stark indeed. Union food retail employees are much better paid than their Wal-Mart Supercenter counterparts-and that's one of the reasons we the retail giant is able to do such deep discounting on groceries. There is a high cost of low prices when it comes to supermarkets.

But Witt, unable to help himself, ends in an ignorant flourish: "And smaller regional stores such as Modell’s Sporting Goods are no better, paying the minimum wage of $7.25 to $8 an hour at its Fulton Mall location. And, no, that doesn’t come with benefits." Which is wrong, since the RWDSU represents the Modell workers-something that a real reporter would have managed to uncover with a cursory  investigation."

The reality is that Wal-Mart's presence in NYC will erode the small business base, lower aggregate retail wages, and lead to further urban sprawl and unsustainable development that Mayor Bloomberg allegedly weants to forestall. Any accurate discussion of the Walmonster's impact should include at least some of these salient facts-but when fairness and accuracy are in short supply the result is the Witticisms in the Brooklyn Paper.