PAUL, Minn. – Walmart stores in Minnesota, like those across the country, demand hour after hour of protection from police officers paid for by taxpayers.
State Rep. John Lesch, a prosecutor in St. Paul for 15 years, wants to do something about it.
“They’re the problem child of Minnesota retailers, and they’re costing taxpayers,” Lesch said.
The stores soak up a disproportionate amount of time from community police because, unlike most other retailers, Walmart does not do enough on its own to protect against shoplifters.
Lesch is backed by Making Change at Walmart, an employee-led group that rolled out a campaign in mid-December to hold the nation’s largest retailer accountable for the strain its stores put on local resources. With support from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the organization unveiled a public service announcement (PSA) set to air on local TV networks.
The PSA notes that two Twin Cities Walmart locations – St. Paul and Brooklyn Park – average three calls for police service per day. “Our police should protect us and not your profits,” the PSA tells Walmart.
UFCW Local 1189 represents workers at Cub, Rainbow Foods and other local retailers, many of which contract with private security firms. By relying instead on local police for security, Walmart undercuts those competitors – and passes the cost onto taxpayers.
Agreeing with Rep. Lesch, Rep. Mike Nelson said “Walmart needs to step up. They should not be sponging off the communities in which they do business.”
With over $14 billion in profits last year, Walmart can afford to address security issues in its stores – for the benefit of the communities it serves and its own workers, Local 1189 President Jennifer Christensen said.
“Walmart’s failure to maintain a trained, visible, qualified store-security workforce at their own expense is putting workers at risk,” she said. Not only are workers at risk on the job, but when they go home to their neighborhoods, where, Christensen said, “we don’t have patrol cars because they’re busy doing Walmart’s work for them.”
Municipalities lack the resources necessary to push back against Walmart’s disproportionate use of their resources, Lesch said. That’s why he plans to seek a legislative hearing on potential solutions to the issue in the 2017 legislative session.
Lesch anticipates other state lawmakers will share his interest in ensuring that local government aid appropriated by the state to municipalities provides services equitably for residents and businesses in those communities – something he’s long known isn’t happening now.
“We want Walmart to lower the numbers they have of demands on police services in the state of Minnesota, so that they’re a fair player in the use of taxpayer services,” Lesch said.