NEW YORK—In dramatic fashion, labor leaders, elected officials, and other advocates ripped up fake checks from Wal-Mart on the City Hall steps Wednesday.
The giant retailer has tried for years to open stores in the five boroughs, but it has always been met with heavy opposition by labor unions, politicians, and small business advocates.
In the past year Wal-Mart donated $3 million dollars to NYC organizations, and anti-Wal-Mart advocates allege that Wal-Mart’s act of charity is nothing more than a ploy to gain access to the NYC market. They also want the organizations that received the donations to give the money back.
“It is tainted dangerous money. They didn’t care about you before. So question yourselves why are you suddenly giving me all this money now,” said Bertha Lewis, founder of The Black Institute.
Twenty-seven council members, including Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, also signed on to an open letter condemning Wal-Mart’s philanthropic efforts.
Protesters said that unless Wal-Mart changes its ways, it is not welcome in New York City.
“Communities lose far more than they gain when Wal-Mart comes into a community,” said Audrey Sasson, director of the Walmart-Free NYC Coalition. “They depress wages in a way that’s unacceptable and they shutter small businesses in a way that really destroys the hearts of our communities.”
Wal-Mart is completely nonunion and its low prices pose a threat to union retailers. Labor leaders have been in the forefront in keeping Wal-Mart out of New York City.
“Wal-Mart, when they come in, tear down good jobs. No pensions, very little in the way of benefits, and my members aren’t going to stand for it,” said Anthony Speelman, secretary treasurer of UFCW Local 1500, New Yor’’s Grocery Workers’ Union.
However, data shows that New York City consumers may not be so opposed to the retailer’s presence.
In 2010, New York City residents spent nearly $200 million at Wal-Mart stores in the New York Metropolitan area. Among them, Queens residents spent $84 million, the most in all five boroughs. In addition, New York City residents spend at least $215 million per year in these Wal-Mart stores, according to Crain’s New York.
“Wal-Mart makes organic food affordable for the average household,” said Edward Williams, an electrician who resides in Manhattan. “My family, there’s about eight of us, get in a van once a month and drive to Jersey to go to Wal-Mart. I think it would be great if they opened one in New York City.”
Wal-Mart did not offer a response to protesters’ allegations and questions about its future in the city by press time.