Political Intelligence

Nickel and Dimed Again at Wal-Mart



Believe it or not, the first union at a U.S. Wal-Mart store came into being right here in our un-collectively-conscious Lone Star State. In February of 2000, in the east Texas town of Jacksonville, an 11-person meat department within a Wal-Mart Supercenter voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers union. It was a bitter victory, though: The store has since fired three of the workers and refused to let a fourth withdraw his letter of resignation. According to an unfair labor practices complaint issued this past September by the National Labor Relations Board, the firings resulted from the employees’ union activities, and were carried out to discourage other employees from joining the union.

The complaint further charges that prior to the union election, Wal-Mart tried to influence the vote with an onslaught of cajolery and intimidation–installing new equipment, promising increased benefits, threatening to freeze wages and to retaliate against employees, and telling workers that managers were reviewing their files to see who among them favored the union. Two other NLRB complaints were issued against other Wal-Mart stores in the same week. And earlier this year, an NLRB complaint against a College Station store alleged that in March of this year, store managers attempted to quash a union organizing drive through a combination of threats and surveillance.

Wal-Mart has been brandishing its anti-union weapons in response to efforts by the UFCW and the Teamsters to organize workers (a.k.a. “associates”) at the nation’s largest private company. In Las Vegas, the UFCW has been campaigning among the city’s 3,000 Wal-Mart workers, who earn $6 to $7 an hour–half of what the city’s unionized casino workers typically make. The union has found a ready ear in workers like Ron Bush, who told NPR earlier this year, “We’re asked to smile every day and say ‘hi’ to our members, and in the mornings they make us do these meetings where we do these cheers and everybody thinks we’re having a good old time, but we’re not having a good time.”

The Jacksonville complaint will be heard before an Administrative Law Judge in September, while the College Station complaint will be heard on a date to be announced.


Among many alarming developments following the 9/11 attacks is the doubling of the Immigration Reform Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. Immigrant scapegoating has long been the central operating principle for a handful of Congressmen, most notably San Antonio Republican Lamar Smith. Now the caucus, led by Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado), has swollen to 30 members. Smith and Tancredo held a press conference on October 17 in which they called for a crackdown on immigrants, both legal and illegal. Among their proposals are a temporary moratorium on immigration, formation of a unified border security agency, still more border patrol officers (What happened to the GOP’s limited government?), and–our favorite–”restor[ing] political ideology as grounds for exclusion and/or deportation.” Also recommended were a slew of new computerized databases to keep track of immigrants, including listings of foreign students, electronic verification of employment papers, and background checks on visa applicants. Inevitably, as this process expands, we will have to keep track of who is not an immigrant. Can a national ID card be far behind?

At the Texas border, meanwhile, crossings that used to take minutes have been stretched to hours as customs officials check each and every car attempting to cross. Many of these crossers are not what most people would even consider immigrants. They are people whose lives straddle the border, which they must cross every day to go to work or to see their families. In late October, two El Paso children died in the back of a camper-covered pickup, which filled with carbon monoxide fumes during an hour-long wait to cross into Juarez. The children, who fell asleep in the bed and never woke up, were going to visit their grandmother. As a result of one of the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s periodic bursts of funding, over the last few years many such frequent crossers were issued special visas with laser-readable strips to speed up the document review process. Unfortunately, as The New York Times reported October 29, although some four million cards have been issued, the laser readers have yet to be installed.


If you thought that after making those ill-considered declarations about how the country’s going to Sodom in a saddlebag, Jerry Falwell was going to lay low for awhile, think again. He’s gone back to lamenting our fallen nation, while lending his support to Governor Rick Perry’s surprise endorsement of organized prayer in schools. Perry, for those of you who missed it, recently took a trip out to the burg of Palestine–where Supreme Court decisions are evidently about as important to the churchgoing citizenry as those official notices they stick in with the classifieds–and attended a middle-school assembly that opened with a prayer led by a Baptist minister. When questioned about the apparently illegal act by a reporter from the godless city of Austin, Perry opted for a best-defense-is-a-good-offense strategy, saying he favors a return to organized prayer in public school. (“Why not?” he told a reporter. “They took it out. They can sure put it back in.”)

Events took a further discouraging turn, as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez announced he also favors returning prayer to public school. Many people who thought this issue had been resolved back in 1963, when the Supreme Court ruled against school prayer, contemplated moving to New Mexico.

Meanwhile, in a statement praising Perry, Falwell denounced the 1963 decision as having “launched the onset of descent in American education.” (Again with the decline of the culture!) “We have seen the course of secularism in our schools and it is obviously time for a change,” Falwell wrote. After all, religion in schools has worked wonders for the Taliban.