Unions urge members, Democrats to rally against Walmart
Labor leaders say retailer pays workers below-scale wages
Union leaders called on members and others at a Democratic Party rally last week to protest at upcoming meetings throughout the East Bay where operating permits for Walmart grocery stores will be considered.
First up for the union protests is a public hearing scheduled March 14 before the Pleasanton Planning Commission.
The commission will hear an appeal by Linda Martin and Angela Willmes, both Pleasanton residents, asking the commission to overturn an approval of a zoning administrator's recommendation to allow Walmart to move into the former Nob Hill store in the Meadow Plaza Shopping Center. The shopping center is located on Santa Rita Road just south of West Las Positas Boulevard.
The union spokesmen made their pitch for support in battling proposed Walmart Neighborhood Markets in Pleasanton, San Ramon and other East Bay cities. Their pleas came at a rally in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall in Dublin where 350 were waiting to hear comments from Congressman Pete Stark, who is seeking re-election in the new 15th Congressional District, and his challenger, fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell, an Alameda County deputy district attorney and Dublin City Councilman.
Union representatives urged the crowd, and especially union members, to attend the March 14 meeting in Pleasanton to show their unified objections to allowing Walmart to open one of its Neighborhood Markets at the Nob Hill site. Union leaders said Walmart pays its employees below-union scale wages, denies part-timers health insurance, and then sells groceries at lower prices than the larger supermarkets can afford, threatening smaller grocers.
More than 150 packed a Pleasanton City Council meeting Feb. 7 when the council, in a 4-1 vote, approved an item on the consent calendar that said Walmart could reopen the Nob Hill market because no major changes would be made to the provisions of the operating permit that governed Nob Hill.
Councilman Matt Sullivan voted against the recommendation. And while the other four on the council voted in favor, their vote came after City Attorney Jonathan Lowell explained in detail that their approval could be appealed, which it now has. It's likely that the same group of protestors and supporters of the Walmart bid will be at the Planning Commission hearing. And, no matter how the commission votes, it's also likely that the "losing" side will appeal that decision back to the City Council for another public hearing all over again.
This all makes it likely that Walmart won't have an answer on its Nob Hill bid before late spring or early summer.
The delays don't please Tom Foley, the property manager of Meadow Plaza Shopping Center where the empty Nob Hill store is located.
"Since Nob Hill Foods closed in 2010, our center has been without an anchor tenant," he said. "We have worked hard to find a business to locate in the vacant building. We are very pleased that the Walmart Neighborhood grocery has stepped up."
Foley said that since Nob Hill closed, smaller businesses at Meadow Plaza have closed with the vacancy rate now 67% there and 30% at the adjoining Santa Rita Center on the West Las Positas side of the shopping and service business complex.
At the Feb. 7 meeting, nearly a third attending wore bright yellow lapel stickers reading: "Give our Pleasanton a voice! No Wal-Mart."
A union steward stood outside the Civic Center door leading to the council chamber checking in those who had agreed to support the effort by several unions to deny the Walmart application.
With the IBEW's appeal to Democrats at the Stark-Swalwell "smack-down," as it was called, more protestors are expected at the March 14 Planning Commission meeting, which will be held in council chamber at the Pleasanton Civic Center, 200 Old Bernal Ave. The meeting will start at 7 p.m.