Union Leaders Hit Obama Praise of Wal-Mart

SAN JOSE –Barack Obama’s praising Wal-Mart again, and union leaders Maria Elena Durazo and Joe Hansen don’t like that one bit.

The Democratic president traveled on May 9 to a Wal-Mart in San Jose, Calif., to laud the firm for committing to solar energy technology to power hundreds of its stores and for being a leader in that movement.  That will help battle global warming, Obama planned to say.

What he didn’t say, which irked Hansen, the United Food and Commercial Workers president, and Durazo, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, is that Wal-Mart’s a laggard – a big laggard – in how it treats its workers.

“As the country’s largest employer, there is no escaping the fact that Wal-Mart’s poverty- level wages have contributed significantly to the decline of the middle class in America,” Durazo said.

Hansen, whose union has tried for years to organize Wal-Mart’s 1.3 million workers – and faced at least 288 instances of company labor law-breaking in retaliation – was even more caustic.   Wal-Mart’s low pay and no benefits not only harm its workers, but also undercut unionized grocery workers whom UFCW represents.

“President Obama will stand side by side with a company known for low wages, few benefits, unreliable hours, discrimination against women, violating workers’ rights, and yes, environmental degradation,” Hansen’s statement said.  Even Wal-Mart’s own Global Responsibility Report admits the retailer’s greenhouse gas emissions “grew 2%, nearly half a million metric tons, in the last year alone,”  he noted.  And other retailers buy a lot more power from renewable sources, he pointed out.

“More than anything, the president’s visit sends a terrible message to workers across America.  He is lending credibility to a bad actor when he should be joining the calls for Wal-Mart to change.

“A federal agency – the National Labor Relations Board – is prosecuting Wal-Mart for retaliating against workers who stand up and speak out. Taxpayers are subsidizing Wal-Mart, which pays many of its own workers so little that they must rely on food stamps and Medicaid. And at a time when there is a renewed conversation about addressing income inequality, Wal-Mart’s business model is making the problem worse.

“After the pep rally in California, I invite the president to meet with Wal-Mart workers who can tell him firsthand about their struggles,” Hansen challenged.

This isn’t the first time Obama has appeared with Wal-Mart.  He hosted company execs at a prior jobs summit, since the retail monster is the nation’s largest employer.  That drew labor’s ire, too, since Wal-Mart is among the nation’s largest labor law-breakers.