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  • authored by Members for Democracy
  • published Sat, Nov 6, 2004

The Cat's Outta The Bag: Wal-Mart Workers Earn More Than UFCW Members

Workers at Wal-Mart stores in Ontario earn higher wages than workers at UFCW-represented Real Canadian Super Stores.

No, we didn't just make that up. We've obtained a wage schedule showing what Wal-Mart workers in Ontario were paid in 2002 and it's more than some workers at Loblaws new RCSS stores will be earning in 2006.

2002 was the year that the UFCW's Canadian Director and Presidents of Locals 1000a, 175 and 1977 did a backroom deal with some big kahunas at Loblaws Companies to Wal-Martize wages at Loblaw's new RCSS supermarket chain. In exchange for the sweet deal, Loblaw Co.'s gave the UFCW voluantry recognition for the thousands of new workers that would be hired at the RCSS's and about $1.3 million dollars for education and communication.

The deal was supposed to make Loblaws competitive with Wal-mart but it did more than just bring wages down to Wal-mart levels - it beat Wal-mart's low low wages by almost a buck an hour in a group that will comprise the bulk of the two retailer's workforces: Entry level part-time workers who aren't likely to stay around long.

According to the Wal-Mart wage scale, in 2002 the lowest paid Wal-Mart workers (sales clerks, stockers, greeters and assorted others) started at $8.00 per hour. Their wages increase by 30 cents after each year of service to a top rate of $14.00 per hour after 13 years. In addition, they can receive anywhere from 20 to 50 cents an hour merit increases.

That doesn't sound like any screaming hell but check out what their unionized counterparts at RCSS stores will be raking in:

Part-time department store merchandise workers at RCSS stores in Ontario start at $7.10 per hour. That's the starting rate that went into effect in June of 2003. The workers get an increase of 20 cents per hour after every 750 hours of continuous service. They can reach a top rate of $10.00 per hour after 8750 hours. There is no annual wage progression so $7.10 (actually $7.15 per hour due to an increase in the provincial minimum wage earlier this year), is the starting rate for RCSS department store part-timers until the end of the UFCW's contract in 2006.

With hours of work capped at 28 per week and continuous service required to get from one pay threshhold to the next, it could take an RCSS worker hired today as little as 2.5 years (the last year of the UFCW's contract) to earn the $8.00 per hour that a Wal-Mart worker was making in 2002 - that's assuming that she never misses a shift and is consistently scheduled 28 hours per week. Of course, by that time the Wal-mart worker will be earning $8.80 per hour, a rate that it will take the RCSS counterpart another 2250 hours of continuous employment to achieve.

While rates for full time workers at RCSS's are somewhat higher (the starting rate is $10.00 per hour increasing to $16.65 after 2 years), we can be reasonably confident that there won't be a whole lot of them on the payroll. We can also assume that, given the turnover in our low wage retail ghettos, the part-timers will make up most of the workforce and few will stick it out for 3 years.

For years now, the UFCW has tried unsuccessfully to organize workers at Wal-Mart stores in Canada and the US. Its organizing pitches have stressed the superior wages that UFCW members earn compared to what workers at the Evil Empire are getting - without getting into a whole lot of detail about just what exactly they do earn. Here's a blurb from the UFCW's official web organ:

Wal-Mart won't tell you what it pays. Based on employee contacts across the country and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics pay averages between $7.50 and $8.50 an hour for non-supervisory employees.

An average Wal-Mart associate makes about $8.00 an hour with about 32 hours a week--a monthly gross of barely $1,000.

Wow, that's awful! But it's not as awful as the $800 monthly gross that an RCSS worker working 28 hours per week (the maximum allowable hours under the UFCW's RCSS "accord") will be raking in.

Since getting out of Loblaws' bed in 2003, the UFCW has gone on a concerted organizing campaign of Wal-mart workers. A web site dedicated to the cause has been launched at www.walmartworkerscanada.com where the UFCW announces that:

Organizing Wal-Mart is the single most important factor in job & income security for existing UFCW Canada members.

A major effort is underway. The Union has made a long-term commitment to persuade Wal-Mart workers to join UFCW Canada.

Considering the UFCW's prowess at the bargaining table, it's hard to imagine what particular advantage Wal-Mart workers will perceive in joining the union that relies on increases in the minimum wage to give its members a raise. It's possible that they don't see any and that might account for why they aren't lining up to join the President's Choice union (Eek! Notice how similar their web sites are?).

OK, to be fair, membership in the UFCW does have its privileges: Members can apply for the UFCW Mastercard, a UFCW long distance plan, a mortgage from the AFL-CIO and other goodies that will help line the pockets of various UFCW associates, but higher wages? Hey, there's only so much you can expect from a union. Let's not get carried away.

www.walmartworkerscanada.com cites a recent report which says "workers who belong to unions earn higher wages, work fewer hours, receive training, and have longer job tenure". Maybe the authors of the report should qualify their statement with "Workers who belong to unions other than the UFCW..." Wal-mart workers can be forgiven their lack of enthusiasm for the Mastercard-flogging, phone plan peddling, backroom dealing Voice for Working America.

For those who are getting hot under the collar for our shocking disclosure of the fact that Wal-Mart workers earn more than UFCW-represented RCSS workers we say: Get your heads out of your rectums.

This isn't about Wal-Mart. This is about the UFCW and the fact that UFCW-represented workers in Ontario now earn less than workers at the non-union retailer that UFCW leaders have been villifying as the great anti-union satan. It adds further credence to the suggestion that the UFCW is just another business trying to beef up its revenues by increasing its membership rolls and that it long ago accepted the corporate retailers' dictum that the retail industry is - now and forever - a low wage ghetto where no one should expect to earn a living, much less a decent living.

Here's Tom Fawkes, Communications Director at UFCW Local 1518, on the subject in 1997:

"Overwaitea, Safeway and others have all said they're not interested in providing careers any more. I think not to tell people entering the retail grocery business today that there is no future here is wrong. This is a job to get you a better education, or a trip to Europe. It's not the job you're going to retire in".

Maybe that it will help persuade Wal-Mart workers to give it up for Loblaws spineless, boneless, pre-cooked competitive advantage - the UFCW. No future for who?

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