Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Unicameral to Take-on Wal-Mart?

by Kyle Michaelis
I wouldn't count on it, but there is a possibility according to this Lincoln Journal-Star article about the debate surrounding Wal-Mart's controversial plan to build a third store in a newly-developed area of Northeast Lincoln:
Opponents say they’ve gathered nearly 6,000 signatures from people who oppose the Wal-Mart, while supporters say they’ve rounded up some 2,600 signatures supporting the retail giant’s plan to build a third store in Lincoln....

Lincoln is already home to two Wal-Mart Supercenters that employ about 1,200 people. Tom Huston, a Lincoln attorney representing Wal-Mart, said the two existing stores are overcrowded and Lincoln residents are spending their money elsewhere. He said the Wal-Mart would employ 400 people, generate $900,000 in annual sales tax revenue and fill a retail void in northeast Lincoln....

Like other Wal-Mart opponents, the Hometown Merchants Association of Nebraska, which represents 45 businesses across Nebraska, is assailing the company for not spending enough on employee benefits, resulting in a heavy reliance on public assistance programs.

[Representative from local supermarkets Jane] Raybould said she and Sen. Doug Cunningham of Wausa, director of the merchants association, met with Gov. Dave Heineman three weeks ago and proposed legislation requiring large corporations like Wal-Mart to either pay their “fair share” of employees’ health insurance benefits or contribute to the state’s Medicaid fund.

She said Heineman said he would look into it. Heineman’s office did not return a call seeking comment....

According to the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in Nebraska, with more than 10,000 employees, 6.5 percent of whom were covered by Medicaid last year at an estimated cost of $7.7 million to the state....

Aside from concern about the quality of Wal-Mart jobs, Raybould said, the new store will double traffic in the area and require the city to widen streets and make other costly improvements and adjustments.

I'm betting it will be a long while before Heineman answers that phone call. After all, Wal-Mart is the back-bone of the Bush economy. It is also a big giver to Republican candidates and "conservative" causes.

Still, it's nice to see that anyone in Nebraska is at least taking a hard look at Wal-Mart - not as any great evil but simply a drain on the economy whose poor treatment of its employees comes at great expense to American society in terms of both tax dollars and the immoral disregard for our growing legions of working poor (and their families).

On Nov. 14th at 7 pm, it wouldn't be a bad idea for Heineman, Cunningham, and every Nebraska state senator to head over to the Ross theater in Lincoln for a free screening of the new documentary, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. It's going to be followed by a public discussion, and I'm sure those in attendance would love to hear what their elected representatives have to say.

In the coming weeks, free screenings of the film will also be held in Omaha, Kearney, Syracuse, and Aurora in Nebraska, not to mention Council Bluffs and Sioux City. More details here. Also, if your corner of the state doesn't already have a screening, why not host one yourself?


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