Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Tuesday, August 8

Sen: Brown (D) Signs Better America Pledge at "WakeUpWalMart" Tour Stop

Yesterday at noon I encountered the retina-shattering bus pictured above at the parking lot of the Dave's Supermarket in Ohio City (on Cleveland's near west side). It's the WakeUpWalMart bus, nicknamed "Smiley," now on a 35-day, 19-state, 35-city "2006 Change Wal-Mart, Change America" non-stop national tour. Sponsored by WakeUpWalMart.com, the bus visited Toledo two days ago, Cleveland and Elyria yesterday, and Columbus this morning. Tomorrow the bus stops at noon at City Hall in Cincinnati and at 5:00 pm at Montgomery County Courthouse Square in Dayton before heading off to points west. Politicians who have or will appear at tour events include former vice-presidential candidate and U.S. Senator John Edwards (D-NC), Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA), senatorial candidate Ned Lamont (D-CT), and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo).

The first speaker was campaign director Paul Blank, formerly a campaign advisor to Howard Dean. He described WalMart, the largest employer in America, as a "large corporation spending millions to take America in the wrong direction," for example by resisting providing health care benefits to employees and opposing the City of Chicago's recent imposition of an ordinance requiring a living wage and decent benefits for its employees. Blank said WakeUpWalMart is a broad coalition (due to the fact that WalMart is an "equal opportunity offender") that hopes to "unleash an exciting new grassroots movement to hold corporations accountable, empower the American people, and make WalMart a responsible corporate citizen that provides affordable health care, pays a living wage, protects American jobs and reflects the best of our values."

Blank introduced UFCW Local 880 President Tom Robertson, who pointed out that the Dave's Supermarket behind the bus was built at the request of community residents and has given a big economic boost to the Ohio City neighborhood by providing good paying jobs with decent benefits to its workers. Robinson was followed at the podium by UFCW member Liz Constantino, standing near him in the photograph, who works in the meat department at Dave's Supermarket. She said that she enjoys working for a responsible employer who pays good wages and benefits, and warned that when WalMart comes into a community paying substandard wages it makes negotiation of collective bargaining agreements with other employers harder.

Senatorial candidate Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Avon) spoke next, thanking Dave's Supermarkets owner Dave Salzman and the Heinen brothers of Heinen's Fine Foods for being good union companies who provide good wages and benefits."Look what it means to our economy," he said, to have companies that hire locally, pay good wages, provide benefits, and establish good pensions. These are "companies that care about our community and give back to our community." Brown said that 860,000 small businesses in Ohio provide jobs and support communities in Ohio, but as between those businesses and big corporations like WalMart "our government's policies are on the wrong side time after time after time."

Brown referred to this chart to point out that WalMart's resistance to paying good health benefits to all employees cost the State of Ohio an estimated $70,882,417 in 2005. Brown linked WalMart to Halliburton and Enron and other large corporations who have benefited from government policies while causing harm to the country, yet "we have a government, a President, and others in DC who have cut funding for small businesses."

Brown said that WalMart and other huge corporations "are not the patriots that Dave Salzman and the Heinen brothers are." He then announced that he would be supporting a "Patriot Corporations bill," which would reward corporations that provide a living wage, portable pensions, and decent health care, and do most of their research and development and manufacturing domestically, with lower tax rates and advantages in government contracting. "Instead of giving no-bid contracts to corporations that hurt our country," he said, "we should favor corporations that care about our communities." Imagine a world "where we have corporations competing to be Patriot Corporations, who care about their workers and our communities."

After his remarks, Brown signed the "Better America Pledge," committing to work for corporate responsibility, affordable health care for all, living wages, and a just and fair workplace.

Paul Blank thanked Sherrod Brown while the crowd of about 80 people cheered.

After the speeches, I had the opportunity to actually board the bus with Chris Kofinis, a former campaign advisor to Wesley Clark, and Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Michael Sangiacomo, whose coverage of the event is here. Pushing aside some of the clothing, bags, signs, literature, and other campaign debris, Kofinis showed us a power point presentation that the WakeUpWalMart campaign is presenting at town halls and community meetings across the country. Inspired by former Vice President Al Gore's recent documentary on global warming, the presentation is called "A Costly Truth" and spells out "why WalMart needs to change, the national costs we are all paying because of WalMart's business model, and how WalMart threatens America's middle class." I could not stay for the entire presentation because I had to drive to Solon to see Gov. Tom Vilsack's appearance that afternoon, but the part I saw was chillingly effective. WalMart is #2 on the Fortune 500 list, had 11.2 billion in profits (after taxes) last year, and is the nation's largest employer with 1.38 million employees. WalMart opens about 350 stores per year. Because of its staggering size, WalMart is a powerful force affecting the entire economy. At WalMart, 32-34 hours per week is full-time employment, and the average worker at that level is $2,200 below the poverty line for a family of four. Fifty-four percent of WalMart employees have no health care coverage, and the proportion of employees with health carecoverage has decreased since WalMart implemented its "Value Health Care Plan," which involves a high and repeating deductible. I'm sure that the grisly statistics continued unabated, but that is the point where I had to leave.

Earlier, before things got started, Kofinis had told me that the tour has drawn large crowds and seems to be tapping into a real strong emotion among the people, Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. "This is really about change," he said, "and holding WalMart accountable to its responsibilities." It was an exciting and informative event and I wish them all the best success as their road trip continues.


At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice bus. Sherrod should get one to campaign in.

At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom Robertson and his Union members are the best!

At 8:07 AM, Blogger Yellow Dog Sammy said...

Thanks for correcting me on Robertson's name! I have fixed it.


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