Thousands Protest Walmart In Chinatown

Anti-Walmart coalition filed a lawsuit Tuesday to stop Walmart from moving into Chinatown.

By City News Service

The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) and the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 770 announced Tuesday they jointly filed a lawsuit against the L.A. City Department of Building & Safety for failing to inform the public of its decision to allow a Walmart store in Chinatown to proceed without environmental review. The lawsuit also seeks to stop the construction at the store.

Earlier this week, thousands of union members and labor activists held a march and rally in what was being billed as the largest anti-Walmart demonstration since the company opened its first store in 1962.

On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators marched from Los Angeles State Historic Park to the construction site of a Walmart Neighborhood Market on the edge of Chinatown scheduled to open in 2013.

Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and folk-rocker Ben Harper, participated in the protest.

Construction began last week on the 33,000 square-foot grocery store that will employ 65 people on the first floor of an apartment building on the northwest corner of Cesar E. Chavez Avenue and Grand Avenue. A full-size Walmart ranges in size from about 51,000 square feet up to about 260,000 square feet.

City Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents the area, tried in March to put the project on hold in the face of opposition, but the chain received final approval for the store the day before the council voted to block the project.

Opponents of the store argue that Walmart, the world’s largest private company with 1.4 million employees in the U.S., abuses the rights of its workers to unionize, pays low wages and provides inadequate health benefits.

Walmart officials dispute the claims, saying that the chain’s wages and benefits are competitive or better than comparable retailers.

“It’s not us targeting Walmart. It’s Walmart targeting Los Angeles,” said Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, which helped to organize the protest.

“We’re responding to Walmart’s new urban strategy of opening up these smaller stores in order to get into our market.”
Durazo accused the chain of not paying a living wage.

“Walmart has always stood for poverty,” Durazo said. “They have a business model that basically kills family-owned and small businesses. That’s what they stand for.”

A 2004 study by UC Berkeley’s Labor Center found that Walmart employees cost California taxpayers about $86 million per year in health care and other public assistance costs.

One of the study’s authors, UC Berkeley Labor Center Chair Ken Jacobs, said the problem is the same today and far too many Walmart employees rely on public assistance for food and health care.

“Walmart over its entire existence has had a history of poor labor employment practices,” Jacobs said. “It pays wage rates significantly below that of the unionized grocery industry.”

Marchers took to the streets Saturday to protest the building of a new Walmart in Chinatown. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, said Walmart has earned the ire of labor unions because of its “aggressive” anti-union position.

Wong pointed to Walmart’s decision in 2005 to layoff 200 workers and close a store in Canada after the employees sought to unionize.

In another case in 2000, butchers at a Texas Walmart sought to unionize. The company eliminated the department and switched to packaged meats.

Wong said the chain has also gained opposition because of the political leanings of the company’s founding family, the Waltons.

“Many of the Walmart heirs are aggressive in contributing to right-wing causes,” Wong said.

“There is a general perception that Walmart is the standard bearer of conservative causes that exacerbate economic inequality, low wages and poor benefits.”

Walmart Senior Director for Community Affairs Steven Restivo defended the company and said the Chinatown location has many supporters, including in the Chinese American business community.

“Looking at all we offer, our associates just don’t seem to feel union membership would be a better deal,” Restivo said, responding to questions about the company’s efforts to block collective bargaining.

“We offer competitive pay and benefits, have a culture of promoting from within and our ongoing growth enables us to offer almost unprecedented opportunity for advancement.”

Restivo disputed claims that the company does not provide adequate health benefits. He said more than one million of the company’s employees are on a company health plan, which costs about $15 per pay period for comprehensive coverage.

The company also offers to match employees’ contributions to a 401(k) up to 6 percent of an employee’s salary. The company also offers its employees 10 percent discounts on most products, Restivo said.

“We spend a lot of time communicating with our associates and the overwhelming majority of them tell us they have a rewarding experience working at Walmart,” Restivo said.

It was anticipated that the demonstration would probably not dissuade Walmart not to open its Chinatown location. However, UC Berkeley labor professor Harley Shaiken said “demonstrations like this have an impact.”

“Walmart is a retailer that is concerned about its image and very concerned about the way a demonstration like this might resonate with public institutions that have to vote to approve something like this (in the future),” Shaiken said.

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July 5, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


One Response to “Thousands Protest Walmart In Chinatown”

  1. adrienne finney on July 7th, 2012 2:11 am

    U guys let target in why not walmart its the same thing I have worked at both

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