Monday, March 06, 2006

If the NY City Council is really worried about health care for the poor and better wages, they should forget Wal-Mart and go after the real culprits.

As we are all aware, after numerous attempts, Wal-Mart has been unsuccessful at bringing jobs and cheaper prices to our much-needed city despite its success in New Jersey and Long Island where many NYC residents go to shop in their stores. BJ’s, another discounter, has also had a hard time opening a store in the Bronx despite the company’s success on 20th Avenue in Whitestone.

The argument against these companies from our City Council has been that they don’t offer good enough healthcare, if any, for their workers and offer pay that is not suitable to their liking. However based on business in this city, is it really about healthcare and increasing the quality of life for the lower income earners or is it payback by our City Council for all the money donated to their campaigns by the city’s unions? I’ll argue it’s the latter for if the City Council was really concerned about increasing the standard for workers, they would be much better off going after the thousands of small businesses in the city instead who hire 100 times more workers then Wal-Mart could.

As a teenager growing up in the city, my friends and I had every job imaginable. For me my work experience started at 16 where I took a job at a local candy store where I would wake up 6 days a week at 5:30 am to go set up the papers and coffee. I would then go home, take a shower, go to school then come home and work back at the store until 8:00 pm. Then I went home, had some dinner, did my homework and went to bed. The owner I worked for, which changed hands twice, broke every labor and child labor law in the book. I worked about 40 hours a week off the books. I had no healthcare and the owner paid no taxes on my pay since I never showed up on his books. This theme was endemic among my friends who all worked similar jobs in deli’s, flower shops, pizza boys, jobs for various local contractors etc…

There are thousands of small businesses in this city that violate labor laws everyday without a peep from the same people who attack Wal-Mart and BJ’s for treating their workers poorly. At least Wal-Mart pays income taxes on their workers. Wal-Mart last year paid $10 billion in local city taxes alone in the U.S., none of which went to New York City. The small businesses, which generally transact in cash, skim the top and cheat the city in billions of dollars. Any City Council member could walk down Roosevelt Avenue and walk into dozens of businesses to find employees off the books, including kids that violate child labor laws but they don’t because it’s not about creating higher standards like they claim.

In the end the attack on Wal-Mart, BJ’s and others is about doing the bidding for the unions in the city who feel their existence being threatened by a more efficient business model and a labor force that frankly doesn’t care if they join a union or not. The City Council will continue to attack Wal-Mart on the grounds of being the champion of the under class but until they aim their efforts at everyone and not just the target of unions, I wont believe it.

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