The Star Ledger
December 8, 2012
By Charles Wowkanech
Rather than pretending to live on food stamps for a week, shouldn't Mayor Cory Booker be taking a hard-line stance against Wal-Mart, which is trying to open a store in the heart of Newark?
Wal-Mart is the No.1 driver behind the growing use of food stamps in the United States. As many as 80 percent of workers in Wal-Mart stores are forced to depend on food stamps. If Booker was serious about helping families on food stamps, he should be paying more attention to the root cause that drives the need for food stamps - poverty-level wages offered by America's wealthiest corporations. It is time for the mayor to break his silence on this issue and bring to Newark companies that pay sustainable living wages and uplift the community.
The mayor's weeklong experiment, other than reinforcing how difficult it is to get by on food stamps, is little more than a publicity stunt, and it's not going to help the one in 10 New Jerseyans who currently rely on food stamps week after week. The question we need to ask ourselves is why any New Jerseyan who works full-time and plays by the rules should have to rely on food stamps in the first place?
A major part of the problem is Wal-Mart, which pays its full-time workers $8.81 per hour and pays its CEO Mike Duke $8,461 per hour. Wal-Mart does not provide adequate health coverage and its workers must depend on public assistance programs, costing taxpayers approximately $2.66 billion a year. Taxpayers should not be subsidizing the labor costs of Wal-Mart, which nets more than $15 billion per year in pure profit.
Newark residents, representing religious, community, civil rights, student, labor, women, retirees and progressive groups, are actively opposing the building of a Walmart in their community and recently rallied at City Hall to make their voices heard. Rather than standing in line at the grocery store pretending to use food stamps, Booker should be standing with Newark families at City Hall who already understand the challenges of living on food stamps and know that a Walmart would only make conditions worse.
The Newark planning board is responsible for investigating the community impact of building a Walmart, but has been secretive in its deliberations and is minimizing the community's input through last-minute changes to its meeting schedule. The mayor's silence is deafening and the exclusion of public input in the planning process is a disservice not only to families on food stamps, but also to the entire Newark community, which would be impacted by a Walmart.
Wal-Mart has a devastating effect on communities, causing mass closures of nearby local businesses, driving down wage scales and increasing reliance on public assistance programs. Wal-Mart has consistently violated wage and hour laws. Wal-Mart has the most lawsuits of any company for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Wal-Mart has a long history of violating child labor laws, hazardous work environments, as well as gender- and race-based discrimination.
While Mayor Booker's food stamp diet only lasts a week, most Wal-Mart employees have to rely on food stamps every day and be subject to stressful and poor working conditions. What these families need are living-wage jobs. They need less talk and more action. This fight is about more than food stamps. It is about restoring dignity to working people and achieving justice at the workplace.
Charles Wowkanech is president at the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, representing 1 million union members.