It’s days like this when I’m thankful that John Tierney is hidden behind the Wall of Pay To Be Appalled:
The Good Goliath
By JOHN TIERNEY
Published: November 29, 2005
Wal-Mart has been one of the most successful antipoverty programs in America.
California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, who represents the 22nd Assembly District and is a former mayor of Mountain View, was outraged when she learned about the sex-discrimination charges in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, and she smelled blood when, tipped off by dissatisfied workers, her office discovered that Wal-Mart was encouraging its workers to apply for public assistance, “in the middle of the worst state budget crisis in history!” California had a $38 billion deficit at the time, and Lieber was enraged that taxpayers would be subsidizing Wal-Mart’s low wages, bringing new meaning to the term corporate welfare.
Lieber was angry, too, that Wal-Mart’s welfare dependence made it nearly impossible for responsible employers to compete with the retail giant. It was as if taxpayers were unknowingly funding a massive plunge to the bottom in wages and benefits — quite possibly their own. She held a news conference in July 2003, to expose Wal-Mart’s welfare scam. The Wal-Mart documents — instructions on how to apply for food stamps, Medi-Cal (the state’s health care assistance program) and other forms of welfare — were blown up on poster board and displayed. The morning of the news conference, a Wal-Mart worker who wouldn’t give her name for fear of being fired snuck into Lieber’s office. “I just wanted to say, right on!” she told the assemblywoman.
Wal-Mart spokespeople have denied that the company encourages employees to collect public assistance, but the documents speak for themselves. They bear the Wal-Mart logo, and one is labeled “Wal-Mart: Instructions for Associates.” Both documents instruct employees in procedures for applying to “Social Service Agencies.”
Most Wal-Mart workers I’ve interviewed had co-workers who worked full time for the company and received public assistance, and some had been in that situation themselves. Public assistance is very clearly part of the retailer’s cost-cutting strategy. (It’s ironic that a company so dependent on the public dole supports so many right-wing politicians who’d like to dismantle the welfare state.)
Lieber, a strong supporter of the social safety net who is now assistant speaker pro tempore of the California Assembly, last year supported a bill that would require large and midsized corporations that fail to provide decent, affordable health insurance to reimburse local governments for the cost of providing public assistance for those workers. When the bill passed, its opponents decided to kill it by bringing it to a statewide referendum. Wal-Mart, which just began opening Supercenters in California this year, mobilized its resources to revoke the law on Election Day in November, even while executives denied that any of their employees depended on public assistance.
In addition, I guess Tierney never reads the rest of the NY Times editorial pages:
Southern California’s supermarket chains have reacted by demanding a two-year freeze on current workers’ salaries and lower pay for newly hired workers, and they want employees to pay more for health insurance. The union counters that if the supermarkets match Wal-Mart, their workers will be pushed out of the middle class. Those workers are already only a step – or a second family income – from poverty, with wages of roughly $18,000 a year. Wal-Mart sales clerks make about $14,000 a year, below the $15,060 poverty line for a family of three.
Wal-Mart may also be driving down costs by using undocumented immigrants. Last month, federal agents raided Wal-Marts in 21 states. Wal-Mart is facing a grand jury investigation, and a civil racketeering class-action filed by cleaners who say they were underpaid when working for contractors hired by Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart insists that it was unaware of its contractors’ practices. But aware or not, it may have helped to deprive legally employable janitors of jobs and adequate pay.
This Wal-Martization of the work force, to which other low-cost, low-pay stores also contribute, threatens to push many Americans into poverty. The first step in countering it is to enforce the law. The government must act more vigorously, and more quickly, when Wal-Mart uses illegal tactics to block union organizing. And Wal-Mart must be made to pay if it exploits undocumented workers.
Unions understand that the quickest way to win this war is to organize Wal-Mart workers. And Wal-Mart’s competitors have to strive for Wal-Mart’s efficiency without making workers bear the brunt. Consumers can also play a part. Wal-Mart likes to wrap itself in American values. It should be reminded that one of those is paying workers enough to give their families a decent life.
If Tierney weren’t already a known Butt-boy for Big Bidness we would swear he was a graduate of the WalMart War Room.