Wal-Mart is again proposing to expand its Rohnert Park discount store to a 143,000-square-foot supercenter selling both general merchandise and groceries. A lawsuit stopped the project in 2011, but the Planning Commission recently approved a revised environmental impact report. The City Council will soon consider the project. If approved, the supercenter's economic and environmental impacts will extend far beyond Rohnert Park, to the entire county and across the region.
The changes to the project are minor. Not minor is the staggering accumulation of wealth by the six Walton heirs who own or control half the Wal-Mart company stock. The Economic Policy Institute reports that the Walton family wealth climbed from $70 billion in 2007 to $100 billion in 2012 — exceeding the combined assets of the bottom 42 percent of all American families.
How could the wealth of the Waltons soar while the median family income fell by 40 percent between 2007 and 2010? In both booms and busts Sam Walton's business strategy never changed: pay poverty wages, minimize health insurance expenditures, squeeze suppliers to lower costs, bust unions and lower prices to drive out the competition.
The supercenter will employ more than 400 workers. According to the company, the average hourly wage for a Wal-Mart employee was $12.74 in 2012, well below the living wage for Sonoma County of $19.11 an hour (a rate calculated by the California Budget Project) that enables two parents working full-time to support two children and to pay for housing, food, health care, transportation and child care. Since more than 50 percent of employees quit during their first year, half of all Wal-Mart workers earn entry-level wages of less than $10 an hour.
In 2011, Wal-Mart announced that it would not offer health care coverage to new part-time workers employed less than 30 hours a week; and the company intends to double the number of part-time employees to 40 percent. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2011 only 47 percent of Wal-Mart employees received health care benefits. The percentage of insured employees will drop further with the increase and exclusion of part-time employees and higher premiums and deductibles for eligible full-time workers.
The UC Berkeley Labor Center estimates that uninsured Wal-Mart employees in California rely on programs such as Medi-Cal and Healthy Families at a cost of $32 million annually to the taxpayer.
Wal-Mart is the most anti-union employer in America. Not one Wal-Mart store is unionized. Wal-Mart workers who attempt to organize experience unlawful surveillance and interrogation and are routinely harassed, threatened and fired. A 2007 Human Rights Watch report stated that while many companies violate weak U.S. labor laws, "Wal-Mart stands out for the sheer magnitude and aggressiveness of its anti-union apparatus and actions:" the company "<NO><NO1>creates a climate of fear at its stores;"<NO><NO1> and the result is "<NO><NO1>to deprive its workers of their internationally recognized right to organize."
Finally, Wal-Mart relentlessly forces suppliers to lower costs, and particularly labor costs, by moving production to low-wage, underdeveloped countries where workers have no rights. According to the EPI, between 1997-2006 more than two million jobs were lost as the nation'<NO><NO1>s trade deficit with China exploded. Wal-Mart'<NO><NO1>s imports from China tripled between 2001-2006, and 200,000 manufacturing jobs were directly lost as a consequence.
Late last year in Bangladesh, 112 workers employed by Tazreen Fashions, an apparel supplier for Wal-Mart (that pays a $37 a month wage), died in a factory fire. A New York Times investigation revealed the lack of basic safety standards and repeated serious fire code violations by Tazreen. The t<NO><NO1>imes reported that more than 500 Bangladeshi workers have perished in factory fires since 2006.
<NO>Local businesses will be hurt by the supercenter. A 2007 study by economist UC Irvine economist David Neumark concluded that for each new retail job Wal-Mart creates, competing businesses lose 1.4 jobs. Further, for every supercenter that opens in a county, two local grocery stores will go out of business. Pacific Market in Rohnert Park has already closed — how many more grocers will fail?