Labor Movement Slams Wal-Mart

Guest Commentary

Volume CV, No. 4April, 2005

After invading town after town throughout the United States, Wal-Mart is now trying to bring its trail of destruction to New York City. Don’t let its bright lights fool you. Communities with Wal-Marts are often left in the dark as the large corporation sweeps in and destroys small businesses and the economic backbone of towns. Increased traffic, insufficient parking, low wages and decreased property value are just a few of the effects to look forward to should a Wal-Mart settle on your street.

The New York City labor movement is attempting to stop the corporate giant from entering the city and may have succeeded for the moment. The Central Labor Council is fighting Wal-Mart, and Jobs With Justice has set up a Web site at, where the following story by Daniele Gerson of the New York Sun was reprinted. (Gerson’s story, below, has been edited.)

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, announced in December that it was in negotiations with Vornado Realty Trust to develop a 132,000-square-foot store in Rego Park that would open in 2008.

But thanks to labor’s fight, members of the City Council said on Feb. 23 that Wal-Mart has halted plans for its first venture into New York City.

“I understand that Vornado has ended negotiations with Wal-Mart to open its doors in my district,” a Democratic council member of Queens, Helen Sears, said in a statement.

While the retail giant appears stopped for now, Ms. Sears and other members of the vocal anti-Wal-Mart front of council members, union leaders, small-business owners, and mayoral candidates said they saw this as only the first victory in a long struggle.

“We don’t think they’ll go away,” a spokesman for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, Richard Lipsky, said. Still, he said, “Whatever site they look to in New York City is going to generate the same kind of opposition that we saw come to play in the BJ’s fight in the Bronx.”

Wal-Mart’s decision comes one week after BJ’s Wholesale Club withdrew an application for a large store in the Bronx after a council committee unanimously recommended denial, citing traffic concerns.

Organized labor has been a driving force behind the opposition to Wal-Mart, which has no union workers at its American stores.

The fight escalated last year, when labor chose the Arkansas-based giant as a target for a nationwide campaign to improve pay, benefits, and worker treatment.

“We look at the Wal-Mart struggle in Rego Park as the beginning of a big battle,” Brian McLaughlin, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, told the New York Sun. “I think this action in Rego Park demonstrates New York is a tough town. It’s not like anywhere else in the country where Wal-Mart has established itself.”

The opposition to Wal-Mart was taken up by a wide array of New York leaders, including mayoral candidates Gifford Miller, Anthony Weiner, and Thomas Ognibene, as well as a cadre of council members.

A council member from Queens, Joseph Addabbo Jr., said he was “very concerned about how Wal-Mart has a track record of poor treatment of their workers.” Mr. Addabbo is chairman of the council’s civil service and labor committee, which held a hearing this month on labor practices of big-box retailers. He also said that while the large stores may offer hundreds of jobs, they may extinguish even more jobs in the neighborhoods into which they move.

Ms. Sears said, “I am hopeful that if Wal-Mart attempts to locate another site, whether in Queens or Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, or Staten Island, that its officials work tirelessly to improve workplace benefits and conditions so that New York City will welcome it with open arms. “Until then,” she said, “we can only offer our backs.”


The following is a memo from Brian McLaughlin, president of the New York City Central Labor Council.

Brothers and sisters,

I am so proud to confirm to you that we are in fact winning our fight against Wal-Mart’s planned invasion of our city.

The first round was most definitely ours when a Queens developer withdrew their invitation to allow Wal-Mart to apply for retail space in Rego Park.

The message to Wal-Mart from our labor movement is simple: New York is one tough customer, and if you want to do business with us, you must clean up your act.

We know very well that Wal-Mart is a staunchly anti-union employer which has deployed ruthless intimidation tactics to suppress workers’ rights to organize a union, while driving down wages and benefits in the retail industry and beyond.

As we see it, the Wal-Mart struggle in Rego Park is just the beginning of a very long battle, and we need all of you to join us.

Together, we are going to stop them, and we are not going to shop them.

Wal-Mart may be the darling of Wall Street, but they are the devil of Main Street …and they remain the labor movement’s number-one enemy.

I urge all of you to get involved in our Wal-Mart fight by joining our “NYC Wal-Mart Free” coalition.

Please sign up on our Web site at or call Jean Kim at the Central Labor Council at (212) 604-9552, ext. 221.

In solidarity and unity,
Brian McLaughlin
NYC Central Labor Council