There are 15 Wal-Mart’s within 25 miles of New Britain, Connecticut, including a superstore 13 miles away in Wallingford. In early July, 2009, Wal-Mart stunned local officials in this community of roughly 70,000 people, by announcing that it was closing down its Wal-Mart discount store on Farmington Avenue. Stunned — because the store was built in 1997. A dozen years later, the store is now closed. As of September 1, 2009, there is no more Wal-Mart in New Britain. Wal-Mart officials made no attempt to hide the fact that the retailer decided to pour money into renovating its discount store in nearby Newington, Connecticut, less than 4 miles from the New Britain site. The sudden loss of 161 jobs prompted the Assistant Majority Leader of the New Britain Common Council, Paul Catanzaro, to slam Wal-Mart in the local media. “They made a corporate decision without bothering to think about the people who work there or the community,” Catanzaro told the Bristol News. “We have a large senior population and people on fixed incomes who need a store like this.” Catanzaro charged that Wal-Mart gave little thought of the customers and employees who most need them was given when it comes down to dollars. But a Wal-Mart spokesman denied that the Newington reopening had anything to do with the New Britain closing. “Our company’s Newington renovation schedule is completely unrelated to our store closing announcement made this week in New Britain,” Wal-Mart’s ‘manager of public affairs’ told the newspaper. The company issued a news release which said the Newington store would offer a better shopping experience for its customers. “We listened to our customers and have redesigned the store to make shopping at Wal-Mart even easier,” said the Newington store manager. In late July, employees of the Wal-Mart gathered outside the store to protest their loss of severance pay and unemployment benefits. The ‘associates’ claimed that Wal-Mart management promised them they would be offered “comparable jobs” at other Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club locations, and that hourly workers would get a severance package of one week’s pay for every year of full-time employment, if they could not be placed elsewhere within Wal-Mart. But the workers charged that all they were offered was part-time work or jobs at stores that were difficult to reach by public transit. “There’s a lot of us in the store that don’t have cars,” said one laid off Wal-Mart employee. “We’ve been told that transportation is not the company’s problem.” Another worker said, “I heard that if they offer us a position and we refuse it, they will take away our severance package and our jobless benefits.” In the company’s employee handbook it says, “You are not eligible for severance benefits … if you receive an offer of a Comparable Job with the Company.” A Wal-Mart spokeswoman told the Bristol News that these worker charges were false. “We have asked each associate to review open positions at other stores in the area and select which ones they’re interested in. From there we try to place them. Eligible associates who are not interested in an open position will receive severance.” Workers responded that Wal-Mart threatened the workers that if they attended the rally they would be terminated and denied severance. To date, Wal-Mart’s official story is that it offered comparable jobs to all employees. But one New Britain employee told the Hartford Courant he could not work at another store location. “Once I told them I didn’t have transportation, they didn’t offer me a job,” said the Wal-Mart employee, who worked 25 hours a week at the store since 1997. As of 6 pm today, the lights inside the Wal-Mart were shut off, and a Wal-Mart trailer was parked outside, preparing to move merchandise to any of the 15 other locations nearby.
The July worker’s rally was also attended by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who told the group that if Wal-Mart offered workers jobs they could not take in order to avoid paying severance benefits, the company would pay a “high price.” “Wal-Mart is a big company, but they’re not bigger than the law,” Blumenthal noted. He added that offering a full-time worker a part-time job “is not comparable to a full-time position.” The New Britain store closure was labeled by the media as “the retail giant’s first location in the state to close for economic reasons.” When the store closed on September 1st, a number of workers gathered outside the front doors of the store and told the media that the company had still not given them the paperwork needed to seek unemployment benefits. The retailers’ spokesman told the Courant, “the majority will continue with the company in comparable positions,” and said the paperwork processing delay was being taken care of. “We are still in the process of running payroll,” the spokesman added. One 69 year old worker expressed her frustration and anger with how her career at Wal-Mart had come to a sudden end. “We deserve respect. It’s not fair how they are treating us.” The elderly woman had worked for Wal-Mart for 12 years, but the company started cutting back her hours. The retailer offered her a job at the Newington location, but only at 28 hours a week. “I can’t live on that,” she told the company. “What am I going to do?” Readers are urged to email Alderman Paul Catanzano at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Assistant Majority Leader, September 1st was a dark day in the city, marking the loss of 161 jobs at the now dark Wal-Mart. Mayor Stewart has stated that his goal has been “to make New Britain an even better place to live, work and to raise a family (and to) expand economic development opportunities.” Without even consulting the Common Council, Wal-Mart has pushed 161 families in your city up against the Wal — leaving you with an empty eyesore of a building only 12 years after the city was foolish enough to allow them in. You have learned the hard way that Wal-Mart arrives with their bags already packed. I urge you to contact Wal-Mart’s regional public affairs manager, Chris Buchanan, and insist that Wal-Mart provide full severance benefits, and ensure that unemployment benefits are available to all workers who were involuntarily laid off. Then, you can ask Wal-Mart to pay for the cost of tearing down their empty building if it has not been sold or fully rented by September 1, 2010. Take care of your people, Alderman, because its clear Wal-Mart has no intention of looking after them. New Britian now joins the circle of ‘communities that Wal-Mart has killed twice’: once going in, and again going out.”