Wal-Mart greeted with controversy otra vez
More than 75 picketers graced the entrance near a Wal-Mart construction site last Wednesday in Holland, Ohio. The demonstration, organized by the Toledo Jobs with Justice Coalition, was one more unwelcome event for the nation’s largest big box retailer.
The protestors voiced concerns about Wal-Mart’s alleged use of underpaid workers in both construction positions and overnight cleaning crews nationwide. They also distributed literature accusing Wal-Mart of discriminatory hiring practices including low wages and unfair healthcare insurance programs.
Several weeks earlier, the Perrysburg Township zoning commission delayed a vote on a proposed Wal-Mart super center.
At the township meeting, area residents raised concerns about landscaping, light and sound pollution, and increased traffic. Many asked why a new 200,000 square-foot store would be welcome in an area already over-populated with similar big box retailers including Meijer, Lowe’s, and Home Depot. The new business is proposed on the north side of U.S. 20 and Simmons Road.
Residents attending the meeting were frustrated by commission members, who would not address whether Wal-Mart should be allowed to build at all. Commissioners pleaded that they could only follow rules set by the township trustees and that they could only consider whether the plans meet zoning requirements.
A representative of nursing home, Heartland of Perrysburg, which is located next to the proposed site, asked the commission questions that could not immediately be answered regarding light and sound pollution and expected increases in traffic.
Wal-Mart’s engineering firm promised to bring answers to the next meeting and on Monday evening Nick Miller of Atwell-Hicks Development Consultants made a 15-minute presentation before a standing-room only Perrysburg Township zoning commission. Miller said he had made changes to his plans and added a four-to-six foot barrier wall around the proposed Wal-Mart to control the sound and light pollution.
With minimal questioning, the commission members voted unanimously to approve Wal-Mart’s zoning change application, subject to approval by the township trustees. Public comment was not permitted until later in the commission’s agenda. The Wal-Mart representative quickly packed up his materials and left before visibly upset township residents voiced their opposition to the project.
Nationwide, Wal-Mart has faced increasingly difficult times when entering new communities, such as in the Lorain/Elyria, Ohio area, where a recent ballot levy to allow zoning changes for Wal-Mart was soundly defeated.
In Lansing, Michigan the state attorney general’s office released reports of an investigation finding that up to 80 percent of the merchandise in five surveyed Wal-Mart stores didn’t carry price tags.
Four of the five stores that were investigated had price tags on only 1 to 10 percent of the items in the store’s grocery sections.
Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox said, “To just so arrogantly ignore the law is surprising. You are clearly putting the consumers at a clear disadvantage.”
Cox said he is filing a notice of intended action against Wal-Mart. The company has 10 days to take substantial steps to comply with Michigan law or face fines in the thousands of dollars.
The law which requires price tags is unique to Michigan, but may lead other states to follow suit.
The compliance rate for price tags was found very low on products covered by the Women, Infants, and Children program. State investigators found violations of pricing for the necessities for these families including milk, juice, and diapers.
Cox said his investigators had never seen compliance so low for any company in Michigan. “This is a massive failure by Wal-Mart to abide by the consumer pricing law, he said.
Across the country, community organizations are fighting both new and established Wal-Marts. On the internet, www.WalmartWatch.com is sponsored by a national campaign to “reveal the harmful impact of Wal-Mart on American families and demand reform of their business practices.” A recent documentary regarding Wal-Mart, titled “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price,” deals with many of these allegations.
Wal-Mart has countered these attacks with specially trained teams of public relations professionals which are sent to problem areas.