City should think twice before letting Wal−Mart into boro

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The shoppers’ early morning stampede, which led to the death of a worker in a Wal−Mart store over the Queens border in Valley Stream. L.I., was a shock to us and the country at the beginning of the holiday shopping season. During that time, while almost every retail outlet and chain in the country suffered losses, Wal−Mart eked out a gain.

So, while the economy is still in the dumps and new stores are few if any, Wal−Mart may try again to build in the city and especially in Queens, where it was rebuffed in its plan to establish a foothold in Rego Park. Queens residents who want to shop Wal−Mart cross county lines into Nassau. Many were there on Black Friday morning.

In a column last year, I began to examine the history of Wal−Mart as a corporate neighbor. Another look seems appropriate, in case the company tries to come back to Queens.

In August, Wal−Mart announced it planned to spend $400 million a year on locally grown produce, making it the largest company in that market. Later that month, Wal−Mart reported it had 17 stores and distribution centers with solar panels in operation or the testing phase. It was estimated at the time that if Wal−Mart covered all its Sam’s Club and Wal−Mart locations with solar panels, that would be equal to the acreage of Manhattan, which is 23 acres.

That same month, thanks to a contract imposed by a Quebec arbitrator, eight workers in the automotive department of Wal−Mart Canada became the only North American company workers to be covered by a union contract. Again in August, several labor groups filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, accusing the company of violating election rules.

It seems thousands of store managers and department heads had been called to mandatory hearings where they were told that if Democrats won in November, they might pass legislation making it easier to unionize companies.

In September, we learned that Mexico’s supreme court ruled that Wal−Mart de Mexico violated the constitution by paying a worker in part with store cards usable only in Wal−Mart stores.

In October, Wal−Mart announced that, beginning in January, it would require its manufacturers to adhere to specific social and environmental criteria. The head of the company said, “Meeting social and environmental standards is not optional.”

In November, Wal−Mart announced its plans to give more than 90 million pounds of fresh food annually to Feeding America, the nation’s largest nonprofit fighting hunger.

On Black Friday morning came that horrific stampede of early shoppers in the Green Acres Mall, which resulted in the death of an employee. Were all safety measures in place? The jury is still out.

In December, Wal−Mart announced a settlement of $54.25 million in a lawsuit accusing it of wage violations involving about 100,000 current and former hourly workers in Minnesota from September 1998 through November 2008.

On Christmas Eve, Wal−Mart disclosed it would pay at least $352 million, and possibly more, to settle lawsuits across the country, claiming it forced employees to work off the clock, erasing hours from time cards and preventing workers from taking lunch and other breaks.

In February, the new Wal−Mart CEO said “a commitment to sustainability is a permanent part of our culture” and pledged to work with the president and Congress to help solve health and energy issues. Later last month, the company settled a $17.5 million class−action lawsuit, charging Wal−Mart had discriminated against African Americans seeking jobs as truck drivers.

Should Wal−Mart try again to enter the city market — especially in Queens — these pros and cons and many other matters should be taken into consideration as to what kind of corporate neighbor it would make.

Posted 6:34 pm, October 10, 2011
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