Walmart protest fizzles — is opposition to retail behemoth slowing?

A smaller-than-expected crowd showed up last week at Starrett City to protest Walmart’s proposed first New York City superstore.

Organizers of the rally last Thursday at the nation’s largest low- and moderate-income housing complex predicted a turnout of 100 people, but about half that attended — many holding placards decrying the big-box retail giant’s alleged history of employee abuses, discrimination and wage theft.

“The last thing we need is a Walmart coming in to take over the neighborhood and give out minimum-wage jobs,” said Starrett City resident Maria Maisonett. “We need real jobs that pay living wages, not ones that wouldn’t even allow us to pay our rent.”

Starrett City resident Sofie Rosenblum said she was at the protest out of worry it would affect her current job.

“I work for Pathmark and my job is on the line,” said Rosenblum. “I represent the union. Walmart doesn’t treat its workers well.”

Rosenblum admitted that she occasionally shops at the non-union Target located at the nearby Gateway shopping center at Jamaica Bay — adjacent to the undeveloped Gateway II site that Walmart is eyeing.

“I do shop there, but they treat their workers better,” said Rosenblum.

Walmart executives have challenged that conventional wisdom, saying that Walmart salaries are competitive with what Target offers to both its full- and part-time workers.

“At Walmart, our associates have real opportunities to advance and build a career,” said Walmart President and CEO Mike Duke at the company’s June 2009 shareholders’ meeting. “Nearly three-quarters of store management in the U.S. started with us as hourly associates.

“And when the company does well financially, we share our results with associates,” he added. “In fact, for their 2008 performance, we distributed well over a billion dollars worldwide to hourly associates in incentive bonuses.”

Workers at Brooklyn’s three Target stores reported the starting salary for part-time employees is $8.50, including options to sign onto a medical and retirement plan.

Similarly, employees at Walmart’s North Bergen, N.J. store said that starting salaries for part-time workers ranged from $8–$15 per hour, depending on department — also including options to sign up for the medical and retirement plans.

New York Communities for Change, an offshoot of the controversial grassroots organization ACORN, organized the protest, calling it the start of a full-fledged campaign to stop the Bentonville behemoth from coming to the city.

“There will be more events in the future,” said organization spokesman Jonathan Westin. “In the future, we will get a lot of City Council people and more community support against Walmart.”

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