A falling tide lowers all boats. Although Wal-Mart denies that it is forcing down wages at other grocery stores, the giant retailer’s competitors admit that to compete with the non-unionized Wal-Mart, the union shops have to lower wages and benefits to cut costs. Kroger, America’s second largest grocer, fingers Wal-Mart as a prime reason it is negotiating with its union workers. Currently there are United Food and Commercial Workers strikes of 3,300 workers at 44 Kroger stores in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio. Another 70,000 workers are on strike at grocery stores in Southern California, and 10,000 workers in Missouri, according to the Associated Press. “Box stores are a very real threat,” a Kroger spokesman in Roanoke, Virginia told the AP. “Their lower labor costs make it imperative for us to manage costs. That’s just a reality.” Wal-Mart began opening supercenters (a discount store melded with a grocery store) in 1988, and today is the largest U.S. grocer with just about 20% of the food sales market, counting Sam’s Clubs sales as well. Kroger estimates that it pays workers on average $6 an hour more in West Virginia than Wal-Mart. At the Cross Lanes, West Virginia Kroger, striking UFCW workers told the AP that Wal-Mart’s opening five years ago cost their store $100,000 in weekly receipts – between a third and a half of the store’s income. In response, workers say, Kroger slashed the store’s payroll from 86 to 45 full- and part-time workers.
The current strikes at union shops prove that Wal-Mart is having a negative impact on the wages and benefits of workers who don’t even work at Wal-Mart. Not only are Wal-Mart associates suing the company for forcing them to work off the clock, and for sexual discrimination, but now Wal-Mart’s dominance of market share is having a spin-off impact on workers who don’t even don Wal-Mart vests. Part of Wal-Mart’s contribution to working America is to tamp down the wages of workers who fought hard over the years for wage, pension and health care reforms. Now Wal-Mart is helping to “roll back” those hard-won concessions. As union wages drop, pressure will increase in other sectors to hold down labor costs. It’s happened in manufacturing, not only in retail. Wal-Mart has come to symbolize labor’s lowest common denominator, and as such, is a threat to the value of all work in America.