Pittsfield, MA Regional Labor Group Says Wal-Mart Superstore Is An “Insult”
A regional group representing organized labor says a proposed Wal-Mart superstore in the Berkshire County city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts is "an insult to the community."
The Berkshire Central Labor Council, which speaks for 26 local unions, told the Berkshire Eagle newspaper that its members have voted against the Wal-Mart superstore, which is almost the size of 4 football fields in this community which already has a Wal-Mart.
A developer called Waterstone Retail Development from eastern Massachusetts has signed a letter of intent with PEDA, the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority. These two groups have to sign a purchase and sales agreement for partial development of land in the Stanley Business Park, which is owned by the General Electric company, and is part of an environmental settlement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The Berkshire Central Labor Council objected to the Wal-Mart proposal on the grounds that its jobs "would not offer wages nor benefits sufficient to support working families. Bringing jobs that will in all likelihood require individuals (to) seek out public services despite working are an insult to the community.”
Pittsfield has had a Wal-Mart since 1995, and the retailer recently remodeled its store. The existing store will become a “dark store” if the new superstore is built, leaving Pittsfield with a large, empty building that will not be easy to fill. In nearby Hinsdale, New Hampshire, a dead empty Wal-Mart has been sitting vacant for more than 6 years.
The Berkshire Central Labor Council said Wal-Mart’s impact on existing grocery stores will result in Pittsfield losing "better paying positions, taxpaying enterprises that have served us for many, many years and choice in where we spend our dollars…The members of the Berkshire Central Labor Council strongly reject the idea that any new enterprise on the PEDA site is better than nothing and encourage the PEDA board to attract sustainable jobs."
Wal-Mart claims that its hourly wage for full-time employees, “excluding new workers,” is $14.69 in Massachusetts. But this figure is not externally verified. New workers at Wal-Mart make $9 an hour, and after a training period, can make $10 an hour---but it would take years for such workers to make nearly $15 an hour. The Wal-Mart figure must include store managers, assistant store managers, and other employees who make more than new workers. The new store will only create a handful of "new" jobs, since existing jobs at the other Wal-Mart in Pittsfield will have to be transferred.
The Berkshire Eagle article also says Wal-Mart employees have access to a 401(k) plan. But the reality is Wal-Mart has the largest number of employees on Medicaid insurance in Massachusetts, and many workers rely on food stamps for their household food budget.
A spokesperson for the developer told the newspaper: “it gets lost in the press…that when you look at the metrics, not only the benefits that Wal-Mart gives but what the actual pay is to the actual employee, there's this misnomer in the country that Wal-Mart doesn't pay their employees well.”
In fact, starting Wal-Mart workers at full-time (34 hours) will gross less than $16,000, which puts many worker’s families below the poverty level.
The developer also tried to downplay the economic damage Wal-Mart does to a community: "It comes down to people's perceptions. In some communities in other parts of the country, Wal-Mart comes in, they've never been there, and they can negatively impact some of the businesses." The developer tried to argue that because Wal-Mart has been on the scene for 21 years, “the only additional impact” of the proposed superstore would be “the addition of a grocery store…So there should be little or no impact on the businesses that are here.”
But Pittsfield already has a very packed grocery store market area, with regional chains like Big Y, Price Chopper, Price Rite, Stop & Shop, and the new German company, Aldi, along with many smaller local groceries. The new Wal-Mart will have a significant impact on the food sector regionally. The net job impact could be a negative fgure, given the level of food competetion in Pittsfield, and the existence of Wal-Mart jobs already.
The proposed Wal-Mart is not a form of economic development, its a form of economic displacement.
What you can do: PEDA has until Oct. 20th to finish its negotiations with Wal-Mart. The agreement must be approved by General Electric, the EPA, and the state Department of Environmental Protection. According to the settlement with General Electric, the parcel in question is not supposed to be used for a grocery store.
To read the Berkshire Eagle story, go to: