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Wal-Mart: Always low prices without union vices

By Nancy Salvato
web posted August 21, 2006
On any given day, copious amounts of anti Wal-Mart sentiment circulate in the media.  Out of the spotlight, though, is past criticism of the Walton families' support of school choice.  Union detractors have settled on a different strategy and are achieving a certain degree of success influencing public opinion to observe the company in a negative light.  Critics would have the populace believe that Wal-Mart depresses wages and eliminates jobs.  Apparently one such study undertaken, "by the University of Illinois at Chicago's Center for Urban Economic Development concluded that the proposed West-Side Chicago store likely would yield a net decrease of about 65 jobs after that Wal-Mart opens, as other retailers in the same shopping area lose business." [1] Charges levied at the super centers argue that competition is forced to cut jobs and benefits of unionized workers; producers of American goods move overseas; and competitors are importing more goods. Wal-Mart is vilified for taking advantage of state and local government subsidies of its stores and distribution centers to a tune of $1 billion dollars.  The most egregious accusation is that taxpayers and businesses indirectly pay the costs of Wal-Mart's underinsured employees.  It is alleged it is because of Wal-Mart, that their employees rely on healthcare subsidies, food stamps, housing vouchers, etc.; costing the federal taxpayer an average of $2,103 per worker.  

In Maryland, the Democrat-led General Assembly voted for a bill (that legislatures in more than 30 states are considering replicating) which would require Wal-Mart spend more on employee health care. This piece of legislation drew strong backing from labor unions. Trying to change the course of Wal-Mart corporate policy in Chicago, "The UFCW, Commercial Workers Union and other Wal-Mart critics," [2] tried to force the company to sign a Community Benefits Agreement; forcing the company to allow its employees to form a union and permanently forgo tax breaks or other government subsidies in Chicago. Wal-Mart refused to comply with Chicago's demands and instead planned a January 27, 2006 opening of a store in Evergreen Park, just outside the city limits.  Interestingly enough, over 25,000 applications have been submitted for employment and the number is rising.  Considering all the hype about full time employees making an average wage of $10.99 an hour, compared to union wages at partly-unionized Costco; upwards of $14.00 an hour, or heavily unionized grocery stores, this represents quite a turn out. Although there will only be 325 positions created, the company will be donating an initial $35,000 to local charities as well as distributing grant dollars throughout the year (upwards of 5 million dollars throughout the state) to help surrounding neighborhoods. And there's more.  The company paid Illinois over $61.2 million in taxes for the year 2004. 

If a business is required to sign such documents as a Community Benefits Agreement; which would require giving up tax breaks and paying employees more money because they're unionized, then of course higher costs are going to be passed onto the consumer. Another consideration needing to be taken into account is that business friendly states with lower costs of doing business have, on average, greater job growth than those with high costs. When companies become financially overextended from the added costs of health benefits and pensions for retirees, ultimately they end up needing to be bailed out with public money because the cost of not being able to supply jobs to those dependent on them is perceived as much worse.  Think about it, how many private companies have had to be bailed out in the last 50 years, Chrysler; United Airlines; Amtrak… What do these have in common?  They are all unionized.  

With all that Wal-Mart gives back to the community, the question that should be asked is, who benefits from unions and who does more for the community, the unions or Wal-Mart?

Unions certainly do not benefit families' whose children are forced to attend public schools, where AYP goals are not being met and students are receiving an inferior education.  In such cases, teachers are paying (sometimes mandatory) union dues, which are spent on special interests, not in the local community. At their 2005 Los Angeles Convention, the NEA passed a series of resolutions (which can be found on the August 2005 Education Reporter).  As one can see in the following (italicized) excerpts, the union is not meeting the needs of individual communities; especially impoverished neighborhoods.
Funds must be provided for programs to alleviate race, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination and to eliminate portrayal of race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identification stereotypes in the public schools. Plans, activities, and programs must increase respect, understanding, acceptance, and sensitivity toward individuals and groups in a diverse society composed of such groups as American Indians/Alaska natives, Asians and Pacific Islanders, Blacks, Hispanics, women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered persons, and people with disabilities.

Whether teachers agree with the NEA agenda, dues are used to further it.  Additionally,

The National Education Association believes that, regardless of the immigration status of students or their parents, every student has the right to a free public education. The Association further believes that students who have resided in the United States for at least five years at the time of high school graduation should be granted amnesty by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, granted legal residency status, and allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship.
Illegal aliens draw from the system without replenishing the system.  What costs more, those attending public schools on public tax dollars or those seeking health care on public tax dollars?  In both cases, tax dollars are paying for these services. 

The Association recognizes that the public school must assume an increasingly important role in providing the [Sex Education] instruction. Teachers and health professionals must be qualified to teach in this area and must be legally protected from censorship and lawsuits. The Association also believes that to facilitate the realization of human potential, it is the right of every individual to live in an environment of freely available information and knowledge about sexuality and encourages affiliates and members to support appropriately established sex education programs. Such programs should include information on sexual abstinence, birth control and family planning, diversity of culture, diversity of sexual orientation and gender identification, parenting skills, prenatal care, sexually transmitted diseases, incest, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, [and] homophobia.

One would be hard pressed to pinpoint the exact moment that the basics of instruction grew to include such things.  Further, one has to wonder if the framers' would have found the inclusion of Sex Education more important than Civic Education; something they believed necessary to maintain a Democracy and which is not covered by any of the union's resolutions; though global disposition is considered essential. 

Unions don't like choice and they don't want any competition. 

The National Education Association believes that voucher plans, tuition tax credits, or other funding arrangements that use tax monies to subsidize pre-K through 12 private school education can undermine public education; reduce the support needed to fund public education adequately; cause racial, economic, and social segregation of students; and threaten the constitutional separation of church and state. The Association opposes voucher plans, tuition tax credits, or other such funding arrangements that pay for students to attend sectarian schools. The Association believes that federally or state mandated parental option or choice plans compromise free, equitable, universal, and quality public education for every student. Therefore, the Association opposes such federally or state-mandated choice or parental option plans.

Rather than allow families the opportunity to seek institutions of learning that are most suited to a child's individual needs, students are forced to attend failing public schools on the public dollars which emanate from taxes collected from their parents.  That is no worse than telling families where they can buy their groceries. Schools should not deviate from the proscribed union formula. 

The National Education Association believes that standardized tests should be used only to improve the quality of education and instruction for students. The Association opposes the use of standardized tests when used as the criterion for the reduction or withholding of any educational funding, results are used to compare students, teachers, programs, schools, communities, and states or when students with special needs of Limited English Proficiency are required to take the same tests as regular education students without modifications and/or accommodations.

The net effect of such regulation would hinder parents' ability to monitor their school districts performance in relation to other districts in and outside their state of residence.  NCLB has thrown some light on performance variables in relation to minimum standards determined by the individual states. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently started "ranking school systems' performance as part of efforts to raise a work force that could better compete in the global economy" [3].

Teacher knowledge of more demanding subjects is not monetarily rewarded, nor are teachers who consistently ensure one year academic growth in students-regardless of their starting point. 

The National Education Association believes that competency testing must not be used as a condition of employment, license retention, evaluation, placement, ranking, or promotion of licensed teachers.

If a teacher need not prove minimum competency in his or her subject area, a parent has no way of determining whether his/her child is receiving adequate instruction.  Schools should consider following the example of Belgium, where teachers in secondary schools generally hold a doctorate in their area of expertise.  However, the NEA supposes to know what is best for our country and our schools and have not been held accountable for any missteps.  If permitted to further advance their resolutions, parents of limited financial resources will never be granted the option of pulling their children out of poor institutions for learning. Undue NEA influence has guaranteed that teachers will all be treated equally regardless of ability and ensured that all schools will be perceived as providing a minimal standard of education.  This has resulted in obvious disparities among teachers and schools.  In the event a parent concludes he/she could do a better job at home, the NEA wants to employ roadblocks to make certain well meaning parents jump through hoops in order to provide an education in the home. 

The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience. When home schooling occurs, students enrolled must meet all state requirements. Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used. The Association also believes that home-schooled students should not participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools.

The NEA discourages practical debate or differing perspectives. 

The National Education Association condemns the philosophy and practices of extremist groups and urges active opposition to all such movements that are inimical to the ideals of the Association. [4]

Returning to the original question, who benefits from unions and who does more for the community, the unions or Wal-Mart? I don't know of any unions that give back to the community the way Wal-Mart does. Nevertheless, unions would like to prevent consumers from benefiting from non unionized corporations. "The International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, which has 1.4 million members and is one of the sponsors of Wal-Mart Watch," [5] only just "launched FedEx Watch." [6] But that is a story for another day.

In my humble opinion, legislators should be developing laws to encourage competition instead of acquiescing to union interests.  If I have to pay any dues, it would be to a membership at Sam's Club, not a parasitical organization like the NEA. ESR


4 Some NEA Resolutions Passed at the 2005 Convention in Los Angeles

1 The Wal-Mart Effect
The Hows and Whys of Beating the Bentonville Behemoth

2 WAL-MART Looking to Dominate

3 U.S. business group will rank school performance

5, 6 Wal-Mart Union Foe 'Absolutely, Positively' Takes on FedEx

Nancy Salvato is the President of The Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues important to our country. She is also a Staff Writer, for the New Media Alliance, Inc., a non-profit (501c3) coalition of writers and grass-roots media outlets, where she contributes on matters of education policy. Copyright © Nancy Salvato 2006


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