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December 06, 2003


If you live in DC, try to avoid shopping at Safeway for a while.

Why? Something like six weeks ago, grocery workers walked out of Vons stores in California after Vons offered them a contract that would effectively eliminate health care benefits for workers over time. Then Kroger and Ralphs stores locked out their employees to show their support of Vons. Isn't it nice to see corporations showing such solidarity? Apparently no grocery corporation in California wants to provide its workers with health care benefits, even though they've all been doing so for decades. The CA Attorney General thinks the grocers are perhaps a bit too solid—he's investigating them for anti-trust violations.

Safeway owns Vons. Safeway has stores all over D.C. Now, the UFCW (Union of Food and Commercial Workers) has expanded its picket lines to D.C. Safeway stores. The union hasn't asked D.C. Safeway employees to walk out—yet. At this point, the union just wants to keep shoppers out of Safeway so that Safeway will understand that it's going to lose more money by fighting the than by simply agreeing to a reasonable contract.

So why are Safeway and its fellow grocery chains fighting so hard to reduce worker benefits? According to the corporations, the reason is . . . Wal-Mart. Safeway argues that because Wal-Mart is a non-union employer (Wal-Mart has a very aggressive union-busting organization that successfully fights every effort of its workers to organize), Wal-Mart can pay workers less (and not provide health care), therefore it can charge less for goods, and therefore it can drive the grocery chains out of business. Welcome to "everyday low prices."

And welcome to The Wal-Martization of America.

Did you hear the one about FAO Schwartz? It declared bankruptcy yesterday:

FAO has been losing money for nine years, battered by the deep-discounting tactics of top toy sellers Wal-Mart and Target.

Hey, look—it's Wal-Mart again! In the 1990s, Wal-Mart, the ultimate "category killer," put thousands of mom and pop stores of all kinds out of business on main streets throughout the U.S. Now Wal-Mart is taking over groceries and toys, even in big markets. What's next?

Posted December 6, 2003 05:37 AM | general politics life generally

I hate Wal-Mart. As a paralegal, I spent a significant amount of time on wage and hour class actions against Wal-Mart, and after talking to tons of former employees and reading far too many articles talking about their business structure, I am thoroughly disgusted.

The missing link in your note is that Wal-Mart is preparing to enter the grocery business in CA (both in Supercenter format and its new "Neighborhood Market" format for urban areas), which is what has Safeway trying to change their policies in the first place. Basically, considering that WM pays its employees a little more than half of what the average unionized grocery worker makes (and the lack of health insurance coverage), it's no wonder that Safeway, Albertson's, and Kroger are running scared.

good luck on finals. be sure to check out yesterday's NY Times article on Wal-Mart in Mexico.

Posted by: Aviva at December 6, 2003 05:00 PM

I'm no fan of Wal-Mart either, but I'm close enough to FAO Schwartz to know why it declared bankruptcy. It sold tons of crappy toys, some regular toys, and marked all of these toys up extraordinarily. To give an example, when I was in the GI Joe collecting age (say..., oh god, 20 years ago), a GI Joe cost about $4 in K-B Toys or Toys-R-Us. At FAO Schwartz, it would be $8-12. So, for years people that have shopped there knew that FAO Schwartz was not a sensible place to shop. It was only a matter of time before its allure wore off and it went kaput.

Posted by: TPB, Esq. at December 11, 2003 11:45 AM

Yeah, FAO Schwartz was certainly way out of my price range and I'm not exactly sad to see it go...

Posted by: ambimb at December 12, 2003 05:07 AM

The fear of Wal-Mart is real and pressing. BTW, Safeway wasn't trying to kill all the benefits, but it wanted workers to pay for part of them.

Interesting, of course, that when someone says "I fear Wal-Mart" your response is to say "shop at Wal-Mart instead of Safeway so that they can feel the pain."


Law students.

Posted by: Anonymous at December 15, 2003 10:19 PM

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