WASHINGTON – The heads of the nation’s two labor federations, plus Teamsters President James Hoffa, sharply criticized the Obama White House’s alliance with Wal-Mart, announced June 20, due to the retail monster’s lousy jobs and anti-worker stands.

The alliance, unveiled in a ceremony that also featured other retailers, was designed to highlight the stores’ commitment to bringing fresh groceries to underserved urban and rural areas. It’s part of the fresh food/healthy eating campaign run by First Lady Michelle Obama.

As part of its commitment, Wal-Mart pledged to erect 275 new stores, especially in low-income urban communities that lack grocery chain stores.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Change To Win Chair Joe Hansen – who also heads the leading union for food store workers, United Food and Commercial Workers – said the administration ignores Wal-Mart’s negative impact on workers and cities. They said the mega-chain pays virtual poverty wages, while benefits are expensive or non-existent. Hoffa added that Wal-Mart’s wages are so low that its workers’ kids run the risk of malnutrition because their parents lack cash to buy healthy food.

“Working families urgently need leadership that will get Americans back to good jobs, paying taxes, spending in their communities and saving for retirement. Today’s White House event, which highlights Wal-Mart’s expansion in urban areas, undercuts the message of the need for good jobs that can rebuild our middle class,” Trumka and Hansen said. Hansen’s union has been trying to organize Wal-Mart for years.

“When Wal-Mart opens in a community, it regularly displaces existing jobs with poverty-level jobs,” the union leaders said. “Tens of thousands of Wal-Mart associates” – the firm’s name for its workers – “qualify for and utilize food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid. In this time of budgetary stress, Wal-Mart’s business model is subsidized on the backs of taxpayers.

“There is no economic justification for our nation’s largest private employer to pay wages so low that any of its employees qualify for public assistance. And there is no justification for highlighting a private employer with a business model based on suppressing wages for its 1.4 million hourly workers.”

If you’re going to create jobs, in short, make sure they’re “good jobs on the scale
that is needed,” when unemployment is above 9 percent, Trumka and Hansen said. “We ask the administration to stand with communities that have called on Wal-Mart to strengthen the communities it enters rather than drive standards and wages down.”

Hoffa made the link between Wal-Mart’s low wages and kids’ bad nutrition.

“Companies like Wal-Mart, which don’t pay their workers a decent wage, condemn children to poverty, poor nutrition and shrinking prospects for their futures,” he said. Its “CEO recently commented company shoppers are ‘running out of money.’ That’s a big clue the problem with our economy is lack of good jobs. I urge the White House to reconsider its involvement with Wal-Mart unless Wal-Mart agrees to create the kind of good jobs that can provide its employees with a decent standard of living.”

Wal-Mart has used its jobs magnet to particularly try to enter very-low-income areas of U.S. cities. It recently won a store in the Pullman area of Obama’s hometown of Chicago – ironically, a neighborhood that is also a symbol of prior corporate greed against workers – and is campaigning for stores in the poorest areas of D.C. and New York.



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.