Editor’s Note: Last week, we ran three letters revolving around the proposed Fircrest Wal-Mart. The first letter, from Fircrest Against Wal-Mart showed a photo and provided a recap of a recent meeting. The second and third letters pointed to other thoughts on the subject. Following is a letter from Bill Smith of Fircrest Against Wal-Mart. I believe it is far better to let these run unedited, so you, the reader, can decide for yourself.
Mr. Stefan Kamieniecki:
Thanks for contacting us (Fircrest Against Wal-Mart) Stefan. I actually read your letter to the Council when I first got involved with FAW and I was reviewing the City’s files. I think people do get a little over the top when it comes to opposing Wal-Mart but you have to realize that when you are fighting the World’s largest retailer with the equivalent of spitwads and a straw, things can get exaggerated.
I agree with many of your points but you fail to connect the dots. All of the retailers that you mention are cutting their costs to compete with Wal-Mart because the majority of Americans shop based on price. I don’t know why but my hunch is that it is due to the reality that most of us have not had real wage increases since the turn of the century. We are all feeling the pinch of globalization, an event that WM has had a big hand in bringing on. Ever since they abandoned their “Buy American” pledge, WM has aggressively cut their costs in two ways, by using their growing market share as a weapon against their suppliers forcing them to constantly lower their costs to WM forcing them to look for ever cheaper sources of labor and secondly by cutting benefits and wages to their employees. The data they report to the public are skewed to cover the real nature of what they are doing. They count 32 hours per week as a full time job therefore they are able to say that a larger percentage of their work force work full time which to most of us means 40 hours per week with benefits. The benefits issue I’m sure you are familiar with. WM subsidizes their labor costs on the backs of the general taxpayer by encouraging their employees to sign up for the State basic health plan, food stamps and in some cases even Medicaid. I won’t throw out statistics to you because I don’t have them memorized and they’re not as important as the idea that WM can lower their prices below their competitors and still make a good profit margin because you and I are paying part of their employee costs. So when WM comes to a community, the standard of living of retail employees drops because their wages drop. This creates a chain effect with all retailers who sell products that WM sells. It’s that simple. Sooner or later the community becomes impoverished. There are several good studies out now that actually prove this point.
South Hill I would submit is not as prosperous as it was before WM for these reasons. The reality may be hidden due to the fact that more and more people continue to move there but once the population stabilizes, I believe that you will see a shakeout of all the retailers that compete with WM. If this doesn’t occur that would be a good sign that people are starting to avoid WM because they have become educated about their business practices and they realize that shopping at WM is bad for their community.
Finally WM doesn’t give back to the community. Many local retailers especially the small, family owned businesses are part of the community and support the community by sponsoring teams, donating money to local fundraisers, etc. WM does little to none of this. The Waltons represent almost half of the top 20 richest people in the world. I believe that much wealth obligates you to give and give generously but this is a small point. The loss of local small business, the eventual impoverishment of the communities they serve, their unfair and predatory treatment of their employees and their leadership in exporting jobs to China are reasons that I oppose WM.
You mention the “not our kind of people” and the crime issue. WM does attract crime just as every retail parking lot does. The difference with WM is that because they are so cost conscious, they don’t pay people to patrol their lots. There is one story on the “High Cost of Low Prices” movie which I recommend to you to get more of the data and stats on WM, where they put in a closed circuit TV system in one store but then in a cost cutting move laid off the employees who were watching the monitors! WM does not fit into Fircrest and it is not needed here. We have many “low price” shopping opportunities in the area, many that you mentioned. The difference is that those stores pay their employees wages and also pay benefits. I know that Target, Costco, and Fred Meyer all pay employee benefits that are affordable and better than the benefit package that WM offers their employees.
I actually applaud WM’s recent move into organic food and into recycling. I believe they are doing it to make more money and to improve their image, but they are dong it. I have heard that they are going to be importing their organic food from China which only makes our trade deficit worse. If this is true, the air pollution and increased fossil fuel consumption from increased marine traffic to bring the food over from China will far outweigh the benefits of WM selling more organic food. Recycling is great but I know it also save them money on their garbage bills so it is also just a good business practice for any business.
We have offered to meet with the City Council to discuss other retail opportunities for the site and we are not unaware of Fircrest’s financial situation and the need to have more tax revenue. The Council refuses to discuss the issue with us or anybody else. Since they may be sitting as an appeals body on the planning commission’s decision, one way or the other, they have been advised by counsel to not speak with anyone about WM. This goes as far as even reading mail sent to them about it. Apparently WM has been very aggressive in other cities with asking council members who speak with opponents of their projects to recuse themselves from decisions based on bias. According to City code, the appeal is a closed record appeal, no public testimony. So the citizens of Fircrest are being denied the opportunity to talk with their elected officials about the project at all. The only public testimony allowed will be in front of the planning commission, a body appointed by the Council. So, where is the accountability to the voters in that process? We have done extensive doorbelling and public meetings and 75-80% of the residents of Fircrest oppose WM coming here. That is a number that any elected official ignores at their peril.
I believe that the community would welcome many of the retailers that you mention because they treat their employees better than WM treats their employees. We have heard that many good developments have been turned down because they don’t meet the 80% retail requirement that the Council put on the property back when it was annexed to the City. We would love to have a city-wide dialogue about the possibilities for the site. How about a community meeting with the planning commission and the Council to talk about it? No response from City Hall. We have heard from the Mayor that there is no “gag order” on him or the Council that they are willing to talk with anyone about the project at any time, yet they never show up to public meetings and if you want to talk about the project at their meetings, you have to talk with mentioning the name WM lest you prejudice them.
I believe the bottom line is this. A community should have the right to decide which businesses locate in that community. Unfortunately, the law says otherwise. So we are forced to fight Goliath with a sling shot. Hopefully, we will be as good with it as David was.
Fircrest Against Walmart
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