Free Markets, Free People

Wal-Mart


Arrogance and ignorance on display on D.C. City Council

What they’ve done is pretty typical of liberal governments everywhere.  They are arrogant with their power and totally ignorant of the economic impact their decision will have on the city.  But boy did they strike out at big box stores and do they feel good about it:

D.C. lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to a bill requiring some large retailers to pay their employees a 50 percent premium over the city’s minimum wage, a day after Wal-Mart warned that the law would jeopardize its plans in the city.

That’s right, the hated Wal-Mart must pay more because retailers with corporate sales of $1 billion or more and operating in spaces 75,000 square feet or larger will be required to pay employees no less than $12.50 an hour.

No arbitrary or capriciousness there, huh?  Not a discriminatory law at all.  And who cares, right, because as one of the council members says:

“The question here is a living wage; it’s not whether Wal-Mart comes or stays,” said council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), a lead backer of the legislation, who added that the city did not need to kowtow to threats. “We’re at a point where we don’t need retailers. Retailers need us.”

Yeah, retailers need them.

Really?  That’s what he thinks.  What if retailers decide they don’t need them?  Not only do the goods go away, but so do the jobs.  So $12.50 times zero gives you what?  It gives you this:

“Nothing has changed from our perspective,” Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo said in a statement after the vote, reiterating that the company will abandon plans for three unbuilt stores and “review the financial and legal implications” of not opening three others under construction.

So 6 stores and the jobs that go with them … poof, gone.  Oh, and this is gone as well:

Well before it had any solid plans to open stores in the District, Wal-Mart joined the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and began making inroads with politicians, community groups and local charities that work on anti-hunger initiatives.

The campaign was matched with cash. Through its charitable foundation, Wal-Mart made $3.8 million in donations last year to city organizations including D.C. Central Kitchen and the Capitol Area Food Bank, according to a company spokesman.

Yeah, there you go.  That’s worth it isn’t it?  6 x no jobs and about $4 million in charitable contributions to help those in need in the area … gone.  Just to make a political statement and display for all their insufferable arrogance and their economic ignorance.

Of course, all of these unintended consequences will likely go unnoticed by the usual suspects while they cheer the council slapping Wal-Mart around.

~McQ


So why are private unions in decline and government unions still strong?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, it has to do with competition in one area and none in the other.

How so?  James Taranto sums it up pretty nicely on the private union side of things:

The trouble for private-sector unions is that the global economy vastly increases the supply of labor, diminishing their bargaining power. If it’s too expensive to run a factory in the U.S., companies can simply move their facilities to other countries.

Or, labor isn’t worth what it once was thanks to globalization. We call that “economic reality”.  Back in the good old days for unions, they were getting wonderful pensions, outrageous benefits and $20 bucks an hour for a guy to open and close a blast furnace door.  Now they can make and ship steel across the Pacific Ocean and truck it to its destination in the US cheaper than we can make it.  Thus the shift of the industry from here.

The bonus for these companies?  No labor negotiation hassles, lower wages to pay (comparatively) and the option to move again if the costs again become onerous (and the steel industry has done that a couple of times).

However labor hasn’t yet allowed that lesson to sink in – well, at least unions haven’t.

Taranto points to a very recent example of the point as well as some union members who “get it”:

Last May, after contract negotiations stalled, nearly 800 IAM-represented employees walked off the job at Caterpillar’s hydraulic-parts factory. After a few weeks, more than 100 returned to work, fed up over the lack of progress in the talks and pinched by the union’s $150-a-week strike pay, some workers say.

When an agreement was reached in mid-August, the contract provided less than the one before it: The IAM gave in to an hourly pay freeze for veteran employees, an end to pensions, a doubling of health care premiums and a one-time ratification bonus of $3,100 instead of $5,000 under the previously proposed pact. The terms were almost identical to a Cat contract ratified by the UAW [United Auto Workers] a year earlier.

Doug Oberhelman, chairman and chief executive of the Peoria-based heavy-equipment maker, acknowledges that the givebacks hurt employees. But, in a recent speech in Chicago, he explained that management compared compensation to factory hands across Illinois and around the world and concluded that to be “market competitive,” Caterpillar had to insist on the concessions.

100 of the members of the International Association of Machinists apparently saw the handwriting on the wall, figured their family came first and returned to work.

So much for solidarity.

Hostess is another example of out of touch private sector unions.  When the Teamster’s union confronted Hostess over its claims it couldn’t afford their demands and giving into them would cause the company to have to liquidate, the Teamsters examined Hostess’s books and agreed.  They backed off.  Not the Baker’s union though.  Apparently their union chief never bothered to examine the books or negotiate.  He just advised his union to strike.  The result is well known and, by the way, the Teamsters were livid – not at Hostess, but at the Baker’s union.

Meanwhile a few facts have surfaced about the Baker’s union boss that should make members of unions everywhere recognize at least this guy for what he is:

BCTGM boss Frank Hurt encouraged the strike (knowing it could shut down the company).

As BCTGM membership has fallen 30% since 2000, Hurt’s salary has gone up nearly 45% to over $260,000

The bakery industry union pension fund is less than 50% funded ($10 billion in liabilities), yet bakery union bosses have their own fully-funded (100%) pension plan — funded by members.

Bakery union bosses Hurt and the Sec.-Treasurer both have their kids on union payroll.

We often hear complaints about CEOs who get pay raises while their companies go down the tubes.  I wonder if the left is willing to apply the same criticism to a guy who raises his own pay 45% while losing 30% of the membership and funds his own pension 100% while shorting the union member’s fund by over 50%?

Unions also tend to play at stupid games that simply frustrate people trying to run a business and make a profit.  In this case it is two different unions fighting about who gets to plug in and unplug refrigerated containers.

A federal judge has been forced to intervene in a dispute between two unions over who is in charge of plugging and unplugging refrigerated shipping containers at the Port of Portland.

Oregon district court judge Michael H. Simon ordered the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) to abandon its efforts to snatch the responsibility of manning the outlets from the rival International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

“[The ruling] simply means that the same people who have been doing the work since 1974 will continue to do it,” said IBEW spokesman Norman Malbin.

Absurd.

The ILWU’s reaction?  It said the contract with the electrical workers represented a “lost work opportunity” for members.  Of course it was a job they’d never had nor had when they tried to take it over.  But these are the sorts of things private unions are reduced too these days.  Stealing each other’s jobs.

As we’ve covered here, the great Wal-Mart walkout wasn’t a spontaneous event or even an event demanded by the workers of  Wal-Mart.  In fact, as mentioned, only 50 of 1.4 million Wal-Mart workers even walked out.

It was a union event using the front group “OUR Wal-Mart (Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart)”, it was all set up by the United Food and Commercial Worker’s Union.   And if flopped, hideously.  In fact, the real reason the UFCWU tried to make this happen is because their stores are uncompetitive with Wal-Mart grocery stores.  If you can drive up salaries and benefits, you’ll eventually drive up prices.  You?  They couldn’t care less about you, Mr. and Ms. Consumer.

Those examples all deal with private unions.  Competition and the cost of labor are driving the reality of today’s wages.   Unions can’t deliver on the big promises anymore.  Many have not done a good job of managing their members benefits either.  Smart companies make it clear that they will willingly provide good wages and benefits without unions.  Tack on tough economic times and the need for a union becomes even less apparent.  At one point paying union dues was considered to be a positive thing.  Workers got something for the dues that they felt was greater than the cost of the dues.   Today?  More and more are seeing those same dues as a liability.

Finally, government unions.   They remain strong because there is no competition.  And, their bosses are in bed with them, negotiating with your money, not theirs.  Government’s don’t have to make a profit to stay in business, do they?

But perhaps even their act is wearing a little thin.  Take the LAX protests by the SEIU:

At LAX, although a large crowd of union members came out to protester, CBS LA notes that ”the majority of them [the protesters] were not airport workers.” They were other members of the SEIU.

So troubled were the airport workers by the Thanksgiving Day protest, the Associated Press reports that according to a press release from former union members, “a majority had signed petitions to leave the union and called upon the SEIU to cancel the demonstration.” One former union member Fred McNeill admitted to CBS LA that it had gotten “personal” for the leadership of the SEIU, “And that’s just not right.”

Another woman, who CBS LA interviewed through her car window at the airport, said she she was a union member (she did not specify which union she belonged to), but even she didn’t agree with the way the union was blocking traffic on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

Unions on both sides have become short-sighted and petulant because their golden age is demonstrably dead.  Economic reality and a changing world have dealt them severe blows and instead of looking at ways to shore up their base and maintain their presence, they’re reduced to throwing tantrums and thumbing their noses at the very people they need to suppor their cause.

Government unions can still get away with that.  Private unions can’t.   And the only reason that difference is made is because competition and economic reality rule one side and monopoly and government protection rule the other.

~McQ


Wal-Mart protest a flop

So how did the great Wal-Mart protest go?

According to the Bentonville-based company, roughly 50 people who are actually on Walmart’s payroll joined today’s “walkout” nationwide. The protest organizers say “hundreds” participated. Even if 1,000 took part, that’s still less than 1/10 of 1% of Walmart’s 1.4 million associates.

If you can’t find 50 disgruntled employees in an organization of 1.4 million, well, you’re a refugee from the real world.

But look at that last number.  1.4 million people have jobs because of Wal-Mart.  Then there’s the downstream effect – suppliers, etc.  My guess is you’re looking at an organization responsible or at least partially responsible for 3 to 5 million jobs in this country.

And yet it is under attack.

Now, there were protests at Wal-Mart stores.  But what should be clear is they weren’t protests by Wal-Mart’s vast majority of associates.

The “organization” which organized this flop,  “OUR Wal-Mart”,  is calling it a clear success.  I mean what else would they call it?  The fact that it only drew 50 employees in protest (50 who I assume are now ex-employees) seems to have been waived away for the fact that there were some protests.

Woo – hoo.

So who were the protesters?  You’ll enjoy this:

Seems strange then that, according to organizer OUR Walmart’s website, the group speaks for actual Walmart employees. In the “About Us” sectionof its website, this not-for-profit describes its mission as follows: “We envision a future in which our company treats us, the Associates of Walmart, with respect and dignity. We envision a world where we succeed in our careers, our company succeeds in business, our customers…” (Italics mine.)

OUR Walmart was listed as a subsidiary of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCWU) in a 2011 Department of Labor filing. While the union disputes that the two organizations are one and the same, one thing is certain: The organizers of today’s protest represent not Walmart employees, but employees of grocery stores that compete with Walmart.

Oh, I’m shocked, shocked I tell you.  Members from a union that represents the workers of stores that compete with Wal-Mart?  Ah, of course – OUR Wal-Mart.

[W]hile the anti-Walmart movement claims to be about helping Walmart employees get better health care, improved working conditions, higher pay–not to mention preventing our children from the temptation of petty thieveryit’s really primarily about stopping the threat of cheap groceries–the same ones that go a long way towards helping cash-strapped Americans put food on the table.

Emphasis mine … and the reason, as mentioned yesterday, is this model works.  It appears, at least superficially, that all but 50 Wal-Mart employees agree.  Given the consumer reaction to the protests (uh, nil, nada, zip – didn’t slow down sales a bit), it’s rather hard to understand how any sane person could call the protests a success.  But then no one said those who put together OUR Wal-Mart are sane, did they?

Not surprisingly, a union’s hand is found in a movement deceitfully claiming something that isn’t true and trying to cause problems for a company that employs a huge number of Americans and is responsible, at least partially, for the jobs of a huge number more.

And, watching these shenanigans, you can’t help but believe that unions are desperate – very desperate.  Here’s a company which is offering the same products as their union stores offer at significant discounts and that’s an obvious threat to their continued employment.  So they think nothing of starting a “movement” that is union backed and likely union financed to undermine that company by enticing workers, who apparently aren’t at all as disgruntled or as upset as this group has claimed, into a job action that’s guaranteed to be against their best interests and that would likely get them fired.

50 heeded the siren song and are likely now trying to figure out how to claim unemployment compensation.

And, they have the UFCWU and their apparent inability to think critically to thank for their folly.

Hey, maybe they can go apply at the union stores.  I’m sure they’re hiring, huh?  I’m equally sure they’re more than eager to hire someone who walked off their last job.

~McQ


Hey consumers, it’s your fault if Wal-Mart strikes

Jordan Weissmann has a piece in The Atlantic entitled “Who’s Really to Blame for the Wal-Mart Strikes? The American Consumer.”

Balderdash.

While I will admit that the demands of the American consumer being partly responsible for the wage scale paid by Wal-Mart, I frankly see no consumer liability in that responsibility.  Wal-Mart saw a need, constructed a model and has successfully fulfilled that demand.   And last I checked, no one has twisted anyone’s arm or marched them into Wal-Mart and made them take a job.

The American consumer’s role?  It is like us saying “you can have open borders or you can have a welfare state, but you can’t have both”. You can demand the lowest prices or you can demand “mom and pop” be saved and pay their workers more (but then you have to commit to voluntarily doing business and paying higher prices) but you can’t have both.

Weissmann is essentially claiming that the consumer is to blame for impending strikes by demanding lower prices. Lower prices mean lower pay and because Wal-Mart isn’t paying a “living wage”, it’s employees are striking. Again it’s a part of the left’s disingenuous”fairness” argument.

But by now, that low-price, low-wage model has become the industry standard among discount retailers, or at least close to it. The median retail worker earns $14.42 an hour, but at big box chains, the pay is significantly lower (the notable exception being Costco, which commendably pays its employees a living wage). Walmart, for instance, says it pays full time sales associates $11.75 an hour on average. But independent analysis peg the figure much lower, closer to $9. According to IBISWorld, that puts it a bit behind companies like Home Depot and Lowes, but ahead of its nearest competitor, Target, which has managed to put a more fashionable face on the same abysmal pay for its workers.

First a “living wage” is different for different people. If husband and wife are both working, the one working at Wal-Mart may be supplementing the higher wage of the other spouse. Who is to say what the Wal-Mart employee earns isn’t sufficient to live quite well on?  If it is a teenager living at home, what’s a “living wage” to him or her?  What, in fact, the Weissmann’s of the world are claiming is that any wage paid to anyone should be sufficient to “live on” based on whatever arbitrary standard they choose to apply.  My reaction?  None of your business – everyone goes to work and accepts the wages they do for their particular reasons.  If they aren’t satisfied, then they can leave.

That brings us to point two, if you don’t like the pay at Wal-Mart, seek a job at another employer. I doubt that most “big box” companies look at their employees as permanent. Wal-Mart and others are, for many, a stop on the way (for experience) to higher paying jobs. If it’s not, if it is all someone is qualified to do, then that’s their problem, not Wal-Mart’s and not the shopping public’s.  My suggestion is to seek out further training or schooling elsewhere.  But it isn’t the job of the public to subsidize your wages just because you think you’re worth more than you really are.

Wal-Mart doesn’t exist to pay a “living wage”, whatever that is. It exists to serve it’s customers and turn a profit. It is that profit that allows them to provide what is demanded by their customers and to pay their employees. If  wages are too low, workers will likely look to an alternative for employment. Yet, somehow, Wal-Mart remains fairly consistently fully staffed.

Like it or not (and the complainers usually don’t) that’s the model. It works. It provides consumers what they demand.

But that’s not what the fair police want, you see. And that’s where you see this sort of an argument:

There are many reasons why pay in retail is often paltry. Among them, it’s a low-skill industry with high turnover and a lot young workers. But the sector’s utter lack of of union presence certainly plays role. And for that, we can thank both Wal-Mart and Washington. From its earliest days, Wal-Mart has taken fiercely antagonistic stance towards organized labor, keeping its stores union free by using every ounce of leverage Congress has given employers — so much so that, in 2007, Human Rights Watch called the company “‘a case study in what is wrong with U.S. labor laws.”

In essence what Weissmann is arguing is workers should be paid more than their worth in a competitive labor market  (low-skilled young workers with little experience).  It’s a matter of “social justice” – that nebulous term used to justify intrusion into markets because they “care” (with your money, usually).  And their go-to vehicle for achieving this “social justice” and upsetting a business model that favors the consumer is the union.  Other than grow fat and demanding, that’s what unions are there to do.

See Hostess and GM for how that usually ends up.

But to his point, there’s a reason Wal-Mart is “fiercely antagonistic” toward unions. That’s because unions would wreck the model they’ve so painstakingly put together over the years, the one which their customers demand. Customers don’t show up there because they love Wal-Mart.  They show up because they get more for their hard earned money.

Unionize, demand wage and pension increases and all the other concessions that put GM in the poor house and Hostess out of business and you’ll find one thing to be true – Wal-Mart’s customers will go to Target.  Or Kohls or some other “big box” retailer.

But they’re not going to pay higher prices.  They like the model.  It works for them and their situation.  And they will seek out the next best alternative when and if they see prices go up at Wal-Mart.

So, perhaps it is time for those like Weissmann to figure out what Wal-Mart is – it is a store that offers deep discounts on thousands of items that its customers demand.  Oh, and by the way, it also has employees who are paid according to that customer driven model.   The  workers have choices, if they’ve prepared themselves – work at Wal-Mart to gain experience and move on, or go do something else.  For those who haven’t prepared themselves for anything else, it isn’t the customer’s job to subsidize their wages just because they believe they should get more even if they haven’t earned it.

But for those who can’t let this go, I have an idea.  Each and every Wal-Mart store ought to establish at least one check-out line which is for those who want to pay the highest retail price found for the items they’re going to purchase.  Wal-Mart could research that, have the cash register price the items according to that research and at the end the Wal-Mart associate could say to the person, “and you over-paid by $53.00, have a nice day.”

Wal-Mart would then promise to take the difference between their prices and the premium prices and apply it to the pay of all Wal-Mart associates.

How’s that for fair?  And people in that line wouldn’t have to feel like hypocrites when they diss Wal-Mart for it’s presumably low pay while they continue to buy at the store.

Of course, that particular line would likely to look like something out of a Halloween display, all covered in cob-webs and the like.

~McQ