On March 21, 2004, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart and Lowe’s had submitted applications to build a superstore in Flemington, New Jersey, to locate on property owned by the head of the local Republican party. This has been a one-party town for about 30 years. The land the big chains want is an historic site listed on a state endangered list. It took Wal-Mart nearly 5 years to get into this town — but on September 16, 2009, a 134,872 s.f. Wal-Mart opened. According to the retailer’s press release, the superstore will bring “300 new jobs” and “an increase in tax revenue to support the area’s economy.” The release failed to subtract the jobs that will be lost elsewhere in the community, at area grocery stores, at garden centers, drugstores, electronics stores, and even fast food restaurants. At the ribbon cutting, Wal-Mart gave away $20,000 in grants to the local fire department, police department, rescue squad, and other services that the store will rely heavily upon — usually at taxpayer’s expense. The company admitted that the average full-time hourly worker at this new Wal-Mart will make only $9 an hour — which is just 50 cents above New Jersey’s minimum wage. A worker employed for 36 hours a week at the Flemington Wal-Mart will earn $16,913 before payroll taxes and other withholdings. To shine a light on these marginal wages, this week seven busloads of United Food and Commercial Workers arrived at the Flemington Wal-Mart to underscore what they say is the anti-worker, anti-community practices of Wal-Mart. The workers lined the entrance road into the superstore for about an hour, numbering around 300 workers. They called the event a “consumer education rally,” in part to counter the massive TV advertising blitz Wal-Mart is engaged in to convince shoppers they will save hundreds of dollars a year by shopping at Wal-Mart. These ads have been criticized by watchdogs in the ad business as being misleading and false. The UFCW workers held up signs which read, “Low prices at what cost?” and “Taxpayers wake up, low wages hurt the community.” They yelled to passing motorists, “Don’t shop at Walmart.” Harvey Whille, president of the local, told the Hunterdon County Democrat newspaper that Wal-Mart is “the biggest single enemy you have as working Americans.” Whille led the group in a chant, which went: “Wal-Mart, Wal- Mart, you’re no good, we don’t want you in our neighborhood.” The newspaper said the rally was designed “to make the public aware of Wal-Mart business practices, as far as not providing health care to their employees” and paying low wages. The union charged that Wal-Mart’s health insurance takes a long time to quality for, and its cost puts it “out of reach for most workers” at Wal-Mart who are making less than $17,000 a year. The UFCW noted that Wal-Mart does not pay “what we call a fair, living wage, something that you can raise your family on.” Whille called Wal-Mart “the most sued company in the word” over labor laws, women’s rights, the environment and discriminatory practices. Wal-Mart’s director of corporate affairs for the Northeast, told the County Democrat newspaper that his company offers “competitive wages and affordable benefits” in the retail industry. Wal-Mart said the average wage for regular, full-time hourly employees in New Jersey is $11.86 per hour, yet in their press release for the store opening, Wal-Mart said that based on the “average wage taken February 2009” the “average wage at Wal-Mart for full-time hourly associates in New Jersey is approximately $9.00 per hour.” So Wal-Mart’s press release cites a wage that is 25% lower than the number tossed around by its corporate affairs director. By contrast, the people carrying signs from the UFCW action told the newspaper their wages were between $19 and $21 an hour, with a pension plan and health benefits at no cost, the newspaper said. Wal-Mart countered that it provides health care, 401(k) stock purchase plans and associate cards for discounts in the store as benefits to full- and part-time associates. The company said that 50.2% of employees had health coverage under a Walmart plan, 22% under a spouse’s plan, 7.3% were uninsured and the rest had coverage from other sources. “If you want a career in retail, the path to advancement the majority of time is in front of you in the face of your supervisor,” the Wal-Mart corporate affairs director said. Yet most workers now in the Flemington store will not stay at the company very long, and those that do stay will never see a pension. And if they reach their job classification cap, they will never see an annual raise again. The UFCW told the County Democrat that the union has no plans at present to try to organize the Flemington Wal-Mart.
Twenty miles away, in the small town of Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Wal-Mart store #2497 is up for sale. Wal-Mart is abandoning this store, which is 128,212 s.f. The store was built in 1997, so it’s only 12 years old. It is roughly the same size as superstore #2294 that just opened in Flemington. Residents in Flemington would be shocked to hear that their new superstore could be shut down by the year 2021. The fact is, Wal-Mart has arrived in Flemington with its bags already packed. Readers are urged to email Mayor Robert Hauck of Flemington, New Jersey at: [email protected], with the following message: “Dear Mayor Hauck, You are going to strain credibility if you keep referring to your town as ‘Historic Flemington.’ Your website brags about the ‘small town friendliness’ and ‘beautifully restored and preserved architecture’ in your community, and the fact that 60% of your historic district is in the National Register of Historic Places. Your sales pitch is obviously to tourists looking for a real Main Street with a Victorian atmosphere, and you boast that Main Street in Flemington “has been touted as one of the prettiest in America.” So how to you reconcile this with the new Wal-Mart supercenter that is bigger than two football fields, with a parking lot more than twice the size of the store? All this talk about ‘charming shops’ and ‘specialty retailers’ is undermined by what you have done with this out of scale superstore. You can’t buy small town quality of life on any shelf at Wal-Mart, and once they take it from you, you can’t buy it back at any price. If you want to see the future of Flemington, just drive the 20 miles or so to Wal-Mart’s store in Phillipsburg, which is now being abandoned after only 12 years of use. You will realize that Flemington has made the biggest growth mistake of its long history — and all for $9 an hour jobs.”