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Good corporate citizens

Walmart doesn’t fit the bill

In her letter to The Recorder on Jan. 24, Planning Board Chairwoman Roxann Wedegartner asks “What do you want Greenfield to be in 10 years?”

Good question.

The next day Chris Collins wrote that the Planning Board chairwoman “seemed to be perplexed by the anti-town sentiment that accompanied the ruling” that sends the Walmart dispute to the Housing Court for adjudication. “I don’t know why people immediately go to that,” Wedegartner said. “If by that they mean ‘why are we blessed with having Albert Norman in this town,’ there’s still not anything the town could do about that, and it’s not (the town’s) fault that there are people that continually oppose this project and others of its type.”

Can we presume that projects of this “type” might be good corporate citizens?

If the answer is “yes,” then why on earth would anyone want a Walmart of any size in their community?

Walmart is the world’s largest retailer and the biggest private employer in the U.S., with 1.4 million workers in the U.S. The mega-retailer also holds the record for having the most workers on public assistance. In 2007, Walmart shifted from regular shifts to “flexible” shifts, a change that forced full-time workers to become part-time employees and thus not eligible for health insurance and other benefits.

The average Walmart “Associate” makes $8.81 per hour according to a study published by Bloomberg News. An employee who works Walmart’s definition of full-time (34 hours per week) makes just $15,500 per year. That means hundreds of thousands of people who work full-time at Walmart still live below the poverty line. They have been labeled the “working poor.”

Many Walmart workers are forced to utilize state subsidized benefits. Three major studies — one in Georgia, one in California, and one here in Massachusetts — found that Walmart was the employer that had workers most reliant on government assistance. Using the data from the Massachusetts study for 2009, it was found that 42 percent of Walmart Associates were using publicly subsidized care at a cost to Massachusetts of $1,753 per each associate.

Associated Press reporter Anne D’Innocenzio recently wrote that Walmart has announced plans “to increase its sourcing from domestic suppliers and to hire more than 100,000 veterans.”

Walmart plans to spend $50 billion to buy more products made in the U.S. over the next 10 years. But even with the additional $5 billion that Walmart plans to spend each year ($50 billion divided by 10 years) the amount that the company will spend each year on buying goods in the U.S. will only account for 2 percent of its total spending in the country. In the fiscal year that ended in January 2012, Walmart bought $238.8 billion in goods for its U.S. stores.

“They sound impressive when you first hear the numbers but when you begin to look at them, it’s a very tiny scale that doesn’t add up to much,” said Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance, a nonprofit national research organization.

This “commitment,” a logical business decision, comes as economics are changing for making goods overseas: Labor costs are rising in Asia, while oil and transportation costs are high and increasingly uncertain.

The initiative comes as Walmart tries to repair its image amid widespread criticism. The company, which often is criticized for its low-paying jobs and buying habits in the U.S., has recently faced allegations that it made bribes in Mexico and calls for better safety oversight after a deadly fire at a Bangladesh factory that supplies its clothes. Walmart said its initiatives are unrelated to those events.

Walmart CEO and President Bill Simon said that they “would partner with federal agencies to train and employ returning veterans.”

Some veterans may not need much training if they work in Walmart’s gun sales department. The Bushmaster AR-15, which gained national notoriety at the Sandy Hook elementary school, is on sale at 1,700 Walmart stores nationwide though, according to The Nation magazine’s Washington reporter, George Zornick “the retail chain pulled the weapon from its website three days after the (Newtown) attack.” Another logical business decision.

At a meeting last October, Executive Vice President Duncan MacNaughton told Walmart shareholders that gun sales in particular are a staple of the chain’s strategy to continue boosting its numbers. He said that “over the past twenty-six months, gun sales at Walmart stores open for a year or more were up an astonishing 76 percent, while ammunitions sales were up 30 percent.

Walmart is now the biggest seller of firearms and ammunition in America. Nearly 400 guns are available in Walmart’s catalog. If you can’t find the gun you are looking for in your local Walmart you can special order it.

Check out the websites for the Northampton and Hinsdale, N.H. stores. Think of the time and gasoline one could save if only we had a good corporate citizen like Walmart in Greenfield to buy our guns at.

John Bos is a Shelburne resident. He may be reached at john01370@gmail.com.

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