My Turn: No need to help big boxes

Posted: Thursday, December 30, 2004

I was surprised to see that some Juneauites would like to see Wal-Mart take over our city retail business. I, for one, won't buy from Wal-Mart here or anywhere, because of their slave-labor employment practices and their predatory business tactics.

While the Walton family wallows in some $100 billion from profits, the majority of their employees with children live below the poverty line. No wonder 70 percent of their employees quit in less than a year. Employees average $250 a week. One-third are part-time employees with no benefits whatsoever. Full-time "associates" get paid up to $7.50 an hour (after a couple of years) for 28 to 40 hours a week. There are class-action lawsuits going on now in several states (including Washington) alleging a policy of requiring overtime work but refusing to pay.

Because Wal-Mart pays its people so poorly, taxpayers are effectively providing Wal-Mart a corporate subsidy because we provide needed medical, food, housing and other assistance to underpaid Wal-Mart workers. This allows the company to sell goods cheaper while at the same time making more profit than their competitors.

But they do have "Always low prices." They just don't want people to know how they still make plenty of profit. It is on the backs of grossly underpaid workers.

The purchasing methods are similarly driven, whereby the seller does not establish the purchase price, Wal-Mart does. This has resulted in a huge number of manufacturing jobs shifting from the United States to the notorious "sweatshops" of the Orient. This out-sourcing of jobs helps to feed the mega-billions of Wal-Mart's annual profits.

Thus Wal-Mart can move into any region, and with their "Always low prices" drive every other business around to close their doors. The net effect economically is a minus because of the net lost jobs locally, lower pay in the jobs provided, and "carpet-bagging" of their profits out of state and out of country.

Home Depot does not fall into the same general category as Wal-Mart. Their broad range of hardware and home building products includes goods made in the U.S.A. Their prices are fair and competitive. The biggest attraction of Home Depot (and Lowes) isn't that their prices are cheaper, but that they have an incredibly wide range of products. Further, they offer a wide range of quality and price within any product line.

However, a Home Depot in Juneau would probably also result in a net economic loss. The hundred or so "new" jobs will replace at least that number lost at such places as Western Auto, Good's Hardware, Valley Lumber, Don Abel's, Valley Paint, Industrial Hardware, and perhaps Fred Meyer's. (I'm sure I've missed some.) Further, by replacing local businesses with ones from Outside, net profits simply move out of our local economy

Although I certainly don't look forward to seeing "big eat little" in Juneau, I support free enterprise. However, I can't understand why the city of Juneau is even considering a "negotiated sale" of choice city property to Home Depot or anyone else. At the very least, the property should be put up for bid. Let's be fair while we shoot ourselves in the foot. Better yet would be to simply say the city isn't interested in selling at all.

As we have all learned from the new high school controversy, the population growth in Juneau is almost nil. Opening yet another huge retail store (remember Kmart?) in a static retail market population means slicing the retail pie thinner all the way around. In an already saturated marketplace, the stores "left standing" in the end are typically those with the deepest pockets. Home Depot and Wal-Mart both have hugely deep pockets and can run at a loss for however long it takes until they are the only ones left.

• Jack Cadigan is a Juneau tourism business owner.

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