LORAIN, Ohio — A union-community coalition delivered a sharp rebuke to Wal-Mart Corp. in the Nov. 8 election here. Voters in this northern Ohio steel center overwhelmingly defeated a ballot referendum that would have permitted city authorities to rezone a west side residential area in order to bring in a Wal-Mart store.
Wal-Mart outspent the union/community opposition by an outrageous margin. It was estimated that Wal-Mart spent over $1 million in their campaign to bring their store to Lorain.
“We might have spent close to $10,000,” said Lorain AFL-CIO President Brian Baker, “but we had justice on our side. Wal-Mart would’ve destroyed hundreds of good-paying jobs if they’d gotten in here.”
Wal-Mart opponents won 60 percent to 40 percent, and won every ward in Lorain. “This really shows what can happen when the people stand united,” said union activist David Flores. Wal-Mart opponents also made gains at the polls. Union leader and Wal-Mart opponent Tony Krasienko was elected, with the top city vote, to Council at Large.
“They tried to overpower us,” said Joe Thayer, business agent for the Sheet Metal Workers Union and leader of the opposition coalition. “They did about a dozen expensive glossy mass mailings, with cover letters from sellout ‘leaders.’ They did ‘push-poll’ phone banks and paid hundreds of folks $8 an hour to work all the polling places. Wal-Mart even called City Hall 40 times the day before election. All we had was the people!” Thayer said.
The union/community campaign held almost daily rallies as the election drew near. A UFCW sound truck, pulling a huge “Save Our City — Vote No on Issue 24” billboard, seemed to be everywhere in the final days. The giant building trades “Scab Rat” was a regular at the impromptu anti-Wal-Mart rallies. Major news media gave coverage to the anti-Wal-Mart forces when union workers led a rally at the proposed Wal-Mart site. Tempers ran high when the owner appeared and clashed with one of the union leaders. This action inspired more and larger rallies.
The election defeat for Wal-Mart was the culmination of a three-year-long struggle by residents and unionists to stop Wal-Mart from coming to Lorain. When the Wal-Mart issue was proposed to Lorain City Council, huge crowds packed chambers, demanding that council stand up to Wal-Mart. The Council voted to deny Wal-Mart the area to put up a store. However, Wal-Mart threatened legal action and Council caved in, agreeing to rezone a residential area to accommodate a new Wal-Mart store. All the Council debates were marked by union rallies, with Scab Rat outside City Hall.
“When Wal-Mart started trying to come in, we organized the West Side Preservation Committee,” said committee leader Mary Sedano. “We didn’t know what to do. We were just fighting to save our homes.”
The community group sent out letters, organized events, attended hearings and put out leaflets. After council agreed to rezone for Wal-Mart, community activists took out petitions, putting Issue 24 on the ballot.
The union/community coalition is planning to stay active. They are showing the new Wal-Mart movie, “The High Cost of Low Price,” at the Steelworkers Union hall this week.
“I never expected to be involved in something like this,” said Sedano. “We all learned a lot about politics, about how passionate the unions are. After it all we showed that you can fight city hall, and win!”