Monday, January 03, 2011


For Christmas, my wife and I gave ourselves a Wii. More about that later, but one of the benefits of the Wii is the ability to stream Netflix to our aging, non-HD, non-digital, non-flat screen TV. So, we also reactivated our Netflix account and watched some movies. I've had some documentaries on my list for a while, so I watched "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices"

Most of you who know me probably are surprised that I would even watch this movie. The trailers at the end give credit to, ACLU, ACORN and AFL-CIO along with a lot of others. Not exactly my top 4 BFF's. But I wanted to see what the anti-Wal-Mart movement is all about.

I initially thought the documentary was well done, however one error blew that away. In showing some newsclips, the video showed a story about a crime committed in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Taylors, SC. The newscaster was from one of the major towns close to Taylors and she accurately pronounced the town name. However, the caption super-imposed on the story said "Taylor, SC". Now a missing "s" might not be noticeable to those outside the upstate, but it stood out to me. My father was born near Taylors and I bought my first car in that area. My sister lives in that zip code and my daughter's in-laws are either in Taylors or Greer depending on the way the wind blows. My advice to Wal-Mart haters is to at least get the names of the towns right, it's important to some people.

The beginning of the video focused on towns laying down the red carpet for Wal-Mart. Later it talked about subsidies, in the form of towns paying for infrastructure: access roads, sewer, water, etc. It also talked about the small family businesses that were run out of business by Wal-Mart. I have to agree with this mantra to a certain extent. Towns and counties need to be very careful when enticing big business into the area. We've had some dispute about bringing a Bass-Pro shop to the area and I don't believe we should do it by giving away tax breaks we don't give to small businesses. The opposite side of this coin is the tax breaks we gave to big manufacturers (notably BMW and Boeing) that bring jobs and other business to the state. If a competitor to these big manufacturers wants to come to SC, we should give them the same tax breaks.

The video gave some stories that seemed to conflict with each other. For example, they would talk about the shortage of workers, forcing people to work longer hours and work on days off. Then they talked about how Wal-Mart doesn't let workers get enough hours and threatening them with replacement.

One part of the story focused on security in Wal-Mart parking lots. It was suggested that Wal-Mart have security patrols ride through the parking lot regularly. I don't know of any store that does this. I've been to malls in several cities, Costco stores, and grocery stores that have parking lots that could also be dangerous: no patrols. When there are patrols, the frequency is so low as to easily be missed. I don't see how this reduces parking-lot crime.

It was pointed out that Wal-Mart has cameras, but it was suggested that these were for anti-union activities. Maybe being anti-union has benefits? The Wal-Marts close to us do have cameras, and SC is far from a union hot-bed (although some manufacturing plants are unionized - a story for another day). One "security expert" said the cameras at Wal-Mart do nothing for security unless someone is watching them, however he completely ignored the deterrent effect. Also, even if someone was watching the camera, I don't believe they could stop a crime in process.

One part of the video focused on the discrimination that it claims is prevalent at Wal-Mart. When I complained about some problems at the local Wal-Mart, I was called back by a manager who was an African-American female. I guess Wal-Mart isn't as discriminatory in the south.

Most of the video focused on the way workers were treated: low pay and low/no benefits. I'm a believer in an employees right to work. If an employee doesn't like his job or feels he deserves more pay and/or benefits, he should get another job. If he doesn't have a degree that would allow him to get a better job, he should go back to school.

One aspect I found interesting was the claim that Wal-Mart encourages workers to seek out government assistance in the form of WIC and medicaid. By paying low-wages and offering no benefits, they are relying on government "subsidies" the video declares. Seems like a simple solution would be for the government to stop these subsidies and force Wal-Mart employees to look for other employment. This same argument would apply to subsidies for infrastructure mentioned above. But this flies in the face of more medicaid, Obamacare and more welfare. Maybe this is one inconsistency Michael Moore doesn't see.

The movie ended with a redeeming quality. It told communities how to fight Wal-Mart. Two communities were noted: Chandler, Az and Inglewood, Ca. These communities didn't want Wal-Mart to come in, so they had community meetings to educate residents. The processes they used were (mostly) above board and legal. The video shots did show one minister mis-quoting the Bible, but most shots seemed very clear. I'm all for communities voicing their issues this way, but I'm opposed to legislating a business out of business the way some anti-Wal-Mart'ers would do.

I did note the list of cities/towns where the video-maker claims Wal-Mart has been stopped. One interesting town listed was Belmont, NC. However, Belmont was also featured in the portion of the video on Wal-Mart's lack of environmental care. Seems that maybe Wal-Mart was not completely stopped. I also noted other cities that were listed that I believe have Wal-Marts (I'll check on these later). Cities determined to stop Wal-Mart need to realize that Wal-Mart may build 5 miles outside city and the area will still have the same problems, with none of the benefits.

Overall, the video was interesting and educational. I'm glad I watched it.  I think it requires an open mind when viewing and don't recommend it to everyone. I don't think Wal-Mart is a bad as they are made out to be and will post my personal views on Wal-Mart tomorrow. But for today, I think I'm going to watch another documentary...


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

My biggest problem with Wal-Mart is how they long ago left the idea of selling American-made products and now at Wal-Mart - even moreso than Target or any place else I shop - it is virtually impossible to find something not made in China. I will spend more money and go out of my way to not buy Chinese-made products.

Randy said...

Glenn, in the 1980's, Wal-Mart was a big promoter of the "Made in the USA" theme. I worked for a textile company at the time and we saw it. Unfortunately, consumers cared more about low prices than they did protecting American textiles.

One part of the documentary mentioned that Wal-Mart is essentially a distribution channel for Chinese goods. While I think that's rather strong language, I understand the sentiment.

I'm glad we live in a country where we can choose to avoid companies like Wal-Mart. They can continue their practices, but you don't have to support them. If enough people agree, they won't succeed.

More of my comments tomorrow.

Ashley Beth said...

OK....most important thing here.....YOU GOT A WII??? AND DIDN'T TELL ME OVER CHRISTMAS??

Randy said...

It was a late Christmas present. And we debated about whether or not to keep it.