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SF Politicians, Labor Groups Vow to Fight Non-Existent Walmart Stores

A Walmart store in Miami, Fla., pictured on Feb. 5, 2009
A Walmart store in Miami, Fla., pictured on Feb. 5, 2009
Why Target is ok, even though it's non-union

In the battle between Walmart and Target, San Francisco is taking sides.

Walmart has no plans to open a superstore in the city, but that didn't stop politicians and labor groups from holding a press conference Thursday declaring they would keep the giant retailer out of the city.

Meanwhile, plans for two new Target superstores in San Francisco are moving forward without widespread opposition. The Minnesota-based retailer has already won approval for a 100,000-square foot superstore at the Metreon South of Market. A second one is planned for the old Sears building at the corner of Geary and Masonic.

Walmart is a famously anti-union employer, paying its workers an average of just $8.81 an hour, according to critics, while offering health coverage that is so expensive that over half of its workers receive government-subsidized insurance. A sex discrimination lawsuit by the company's female employees, potentially the biggest such case in U.S. history, is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Target's stores aren't unionized either. In addition, LGBT rights groups have criticized the Minnesota-based retailer for making political contributions to candidates and initiatives opposing same-sex marriage. Lady Gaga recently pulled out of a proposed deal giving Target exclusive rights to distribute a deluxe version of her new album after the company reneged on its promise to stop its controversial donations.

Last month, Target agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by district attorneys around the state for mishandling hazardous materials, including mercury-tainted wastes and flammable materials that were sent to landfills.

But at the press conference it was Walmart that city supervisor and mayor hopeful John Avalos declared "a virus" that wants  to "infect" San Francisco. 

Avalos predicted the Board of Supervisors would oppose any as-yet unannounced expansion plan by Walmart, but said he "hadn't heard" complaints about Target.

Gordon Mar, the coordinator of the labor-backed group Jobs with Justice, which organized the press conference, said it was prompted by Walmart's recent moves to open stores in New York and Washington, DC.

In an e-mailed response to questions from The Bay Citizen, Walmart spokesperson Tiffany Moffatt said the company doesn't "have any new projects to announce in San Francisco."

Mar argues that Walmart is simply "under cover. They haven't been public yet, but we know we're in their target."

Walmart is the focus of a major campaign by organized labor nationwide not only because it's stores are non-union, but also because it cuts into the markets of unionized supermarkets like Safeway and Lucky. Those supermarkets charge more for groceries, but pay their workers more and offer more generous benefits.

But both of San Francisco's new Target superstores will also sell groceries, the company said, creating the same market dynamics as a new Walmart, a notion that Tony Alexander, political director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, did not dispute. 

Alexander said the UFCW decided to focus its national campaign on Walmart, because it is America's largest retailer.

"As much as we'd like to go after every company we have to choose our battles," said 

Around the Bay Area, both Target and Walmart declared victory in long-running battles with community groups this week.

On Tuesday, the Milpitas City Council reversed itself and on a 3-2 vote approved Walmart's controversial plan to expand its store there after the company gathered enough signatures to put its plan on the ballot -- a move that would have the city an estimated $436,000, according to the Mercury News.

And the San Rafael city council green-lighted construction of a 137,000 square-foot Target at 125 Shoreline Parkway, ending a battle that began six years ago.

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