COMMACK, N.Y. — Hundreds of community residents, elected officials and members of AFL-CIO unions as well as those who recently left the federation united here Aug. 10 in a rally to stop the construction of a new Wal-Mart in nearby Dix Hills, and to oppose the policies of already existing Wal-Marts.

The demonstration, part of a nationwide labor-backed “Send Wal-Mart Back to School” campaign, delivered a report card full of failing grades for the company. Wal-Mart received Fs in categories such as “breaking child labor laws,” “discriminating against women,” “abusing taxpayers and public health care” and “paying poverty-level wages.”

John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor and UFCW/RWDSU Local 338, said, “We hope that Wal-Mart hears us today. If they don’t hear us today, they’re going to hear us tomorrow! They’re going to hear us in New York City; they’re going to hear us all across the country.

“Do we want Wal-Mart in our community?” Durso asked.

The crowd delivered a resounding “No!”

“The line in the sand is being drawn here, right now,” said Andrew Raia, a Republican state assemblyman from Suffolk County. “They pay [their workers] about $10 an hour, and don’t give them any health benefits. Why? What do they give them? They give them a form for Family Health Plus, New York State’s subsidized health care, because they expect you the taxpayer … to cover their employees’ health insurance, and that’s just wrong.”

George Bettengill, a resident of Dix Hills, told the World, “Already, a group of five very large stores are wiping out the few places of green trees in the area, and paying wages that — at Wal-Mart, for example —don’t allow a person to be able to live on Long Island.”

The “Back to School” campaign, spearheaded by the American Federation of Teachers and other unions, aims to get parents to shop at more responsible, union retailers. It is part of a broader campaign to tame and unionize the department store chain, which is the nation’s largest private employer.

Studies have found that when a Wal-Mart moves into an area, it depresses wages and creates a net loss of jobs by putting “mom and pop” and smaller chains out of business. The company is known as fiercely anti-union, and is facing lawsuits across the country for sexual harassment, abusing immigrants, requiring overtime work without pay and, in 10 percent of its stores, locking workers in overnight.

The rally showed no sign of solidarity lost. Indeed, unions from both the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Coalition were there in numbers.

Nick LaMorte, president of the Long Island region of the AFL-CIO-affiliated Civil Service Employees Association, told the World, “the recent split in labor is going to affect us, probably monetarily, on Long Island in our central labor council, but as far as our solidarity goes, we are more resolved now to work together outside the internal framework, through labor-religious coalitions, through Jobs with Justice, and through any other group where working men and women will have a voice. Solidarity is here on Long Island, no matter what they do on a national level by edict and policy.” CSEA represents 50,000 workers.

Durso echoed LaMorte. “We have much more that binds us than separates us. On occasion we have a disruption, but that happens. We are going down different paths but we are all ready to get to the same goal,” he told the World.

Referring to workers who belong to AFL-CIO unions, Durso said, “They were my brothers and sisters yesterday, and they’re my brothers and sisters today. On Long Island, this is a unified labor movement on 90 percent of our issues. My own international is the UFCW, part of the Change to Win Coalition. That will have ramifications for the leadership of the L.I. Fed, but we will continue to work together every way that we can, because our interests are the same. These are our friends and our family. We’ll have disagreements, but hey — you have disagreements in your own family. You still love them.”

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