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calendar   Tuesday - September 13, 2005

Most Ridiculous Item Of The Day

Today’s award for unbelievable asinine activity goes to the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) who hired temp workers to man the picket lines in 104-degree heat in Las Vegas to protest Wal-Mart workers who had better working conditions than they did. It seems the union couldn’t stand the heat so they opened their own “sweat shop”.

imageimageThe Strange Business of Protesting Jobs That May Be Better Than Yours
(LAS VEGAS WEEKLY)

The shade from the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market sign is minimal around noon; still, six picketers squeeze their thermoses and Dasani bottles onto the dirt below, trying to keep their water cool. They’re walking five-hour shifts on this corner at Stephanie Street and American Pacific Drive in Henderson—anti-Wal-Mart signs propped lazily on their shoulders, deep suntans on their faces and arms—with two 15-minute breaks to run across the street and use the washroom at a gas station.

Periodically one of them will sit down in a slightly larger slice of shade under a giant electricity pole in the intersection. Four lanes of traffic rush by, some drivers honk in support, more than once someone has yelled, “assholes!” but mostly, they’re ignored. They’re not union members; they’re temp workers employed through Allied Forces/Labor Express by the union—United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). They’re making $6 an hour, with no benefits; it’s 104 F, and they’re protesting the working conditions inside the new Wal-Mart grocery store.

“It don’t make no sense, does it?” says James Greer, the line foreman and the only one who pulls down $8 an hour, as he ambles down the sidewalk, picket sign on shoulder, sweaty hat over sweaty gray hair, spitting sunflower seeds. “We’re sacrificing for the people who work in there, and they don’t even know it.”

The union accuses Wal-Mart of dragging down wages and working conditions for other grocery-store workers across the nation. “Whether you work or shop at Wal-Mart, the giant retailer’s employment practices affect your wages. Wal-Mart leads the race to the bottom in wages and health-care,” says the UFCW’s website. “As the largest corporation in the world, Wal-Mart has a responsibility to the people who built it. Wal-Mart jobs offer low pay, inadequate and unaffordable healthcare, and off the clock work.”

But standing with a union-supplied sign on his shoulder that reads, Don’t Shop WalMart: Below Area Standards, picketer and former Wal-Mart employee Sal Rivera says about the notorious working conditions of his former big-box employer: “I can’t complain. It wasn’t bad. They started paying me at $6.75, and after three months I was already getting $7, then I got Employee of the Month, and by the time I left (in less than one year), I was making $8.63 an hour.” Rivera worked in maintenance and quit four years ago for personal reasons, he says. He would consider reapplying.

Rivera is one of few picketers here who have ever worked for Wal-Mart—it’s strictly coincidental that he was once in their employ. Most of the picketers were just looking for work through the temp agency. While Rivera’s words for Wal-Mart seem less than harsh, he does add, “I did not want to get insurance from them because it was too expensive.” That, says UCFW organizer Bill Hornbrook, who drove workers to the site one morning last week, is one of the reasons the union wants these protestors here.

“Wal-Mart has no benefits at an affordable rate. The (Wal-Mart) workers can’t afford the insurance with the wage they’re making. We’d like to see them improve their working conditions,” Hornbrook said. “The Neighborhood Markets are the same as a supermarket like Albertson’s or Safeway. Some supermarkets start (pay) at $7 an hour, but they do get benefits. These people (employees at Wal-Mart) have to pay for theirs,” Hornbrook said. So the UCFW is protesting each of the five new Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets in the Vegas area; this one in Henderson opened June 29.

Wal-Mart is infamous for its labor and consumer battles—more than 40 cases alleging the company prevented workers from receiving adequate wage and overtime pay are being considered by courts for class-action status. Additionally, six current and former female employees are pursuing a class-action lawsuit charging that Wal-Mart discriminates against women in its promotion practices.

“We’re just trying to help the women that get discriminated against in Wal-Mart,” says Greer. “We’re out here suffering a lot for these people.” He pauses, moves his sign so that it blocks the scorching sun on his leathery face, and considers the working conditions of his colleagues out here working for the union. “We had one gal out here in her 40s, and she had a heat stroke. I kept making her sit down, I noticed she was stepping (staggering), and I made her sit in the shade,” Greer said. She went home sick after her shift and didn’t ever return to work.

Another woman, Greer said, had huge blisters on her feet and he took her inside to the Wal-Mart pharmacy. The pharmacist recommended some balm, and Greer bought it for her. Since then, he said, other picketers have purchased the balm for their blisters inside the Wal-Mart they are protesting. The group has no transportation to go elsewhere—they are dropped off by a union van and picked up later. On weekends, they have to find their own transportation, Greer said.


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Posted by The Skipper   United States  on 09/13/2005 at 06:30 AM   
Filed Under: • OutrageousUnions-Labor •  
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Not that very many people ever read this far down, but this blog was the creation of Allan Kelly and his friend Vilmar. Vilmar moved on to his own blog some time ago, and Allan ran this place alone until his sudden and unexpected death partway through 2006. We all miss him. A lot. Even though he is gone this site will always still be more than a little bit his. We who are left to carry on the BMEWS tradition owe him a great debt of gratitude, and we hope to be able to pay that back by following his last advice to us all:
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