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Wal-Mart Plans Met By Protesters – QNS.com

Wal-Mart Plans Met By Protesters

Despite the bitter cold, demonstrators lined up in Rego Park at the proposed site of the first NYC Wal-Mart to protest the conglomerates coming to Queens.
Touting questionable business practices, including the underpayment of workers, the squelching of unions and the unwillingness to provide health care, the protesters, led by Congressman Anthony Weiner, Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, president of the NYC Central Labor Council, and union leaders, made one thing very clear Wal-Mart is not welcome.
"We dont want Wal-Mart in our community," said Stewart Applebaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). "They drive down standards of living."
According to a study prepared by Weiner, Wal-Mart workers salaries are 20% lower than workers in comparable stores, meaning that the average annual salary for a full-timer is $15,000 per year, not including health benefits. In fact, less than two-thirds of the big box employees are insured through the companys health plan.
"Low wages coupled with high premiums means too many Wal-Mart workers are forced to get health insurance coverage from the government or through a spouses plan," said Applebaum. "Wal-Mart shifts the cost of health insurance to taxpayers and other employees, driving up the health costs for all of us."
In addition, according to the study, Wal-Mart will not allow its workers to unionize and consistently violates human rights by relying on Chinese manufacturers notorious for their sweatshop conditions, failing to implement an effective inspection program to stop abuses.
"If you believe in workers rights and environmental rights, then Wal-Mart is wrong for New York," said Weiner.
Calling Wal-Marts policies "irresponsible corporate practices," the protesters also voiced concern at the toll a mega store would have on local business. Weiners study claims that for every Wal-Mart that opens in a community two supermarkets close, and that the "mom and pop" stores, unable to compete, are forced to consider cutting employee compensation.
The location of the proposed store, 62nd Drive and Junction Boulevard, was also another consideration of the demonstrators.
"The site is only one block away from Queens Boulevard the Boulevard of Death, " said State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky. "We certainly dont need the added traffic Wal-Mart will bring."
In response to the protest and the allegations, Wal-Mart spokesperson Mia Masten told The Queens Courier that the retailer is committed to working with residents and community officials as plans progress.
"Wal-Mart is proud of the competitive wages we offer our associates, who in the metropolitan areas of the US earn an average of $10.38 per hour, more than double the states current minimum wage and 45% higher than the minimum wage will be in January 2007."
Allegedly facing 38 state and federal lawsuits filed by workers, as well as the largest sexual discrimination suit in the nations history, Wal-Mart faces staunch opposition.
"People who work are entitled to dignity and respect," said John R. Durso, president of Local 338. "We are standing together to say, Not in our city, not in Queens, not in Rego Park. "
toni@queenscourier.com  

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