Revision Street: Tom Shepherd (III)

July 7, 2010

I’ve been asking Tom Shepherd, down in Pullman, how the new Wal-Mart will affect things in the area.


(photo by lanskymob/Flickr)

Howard, who lives right around the corner from here, has a bike store in Dalton that he’s throwing in the towel on. He put it up for sale about three weeks ago and now he’s gonna close it down. He has been fighting the Wal-Mart—he knows he lost the major battle of selling bicycles but he was still able to get along with service, because Wal-Mart doesn’t offer anything in the way of servicing bikes, but he isn’t able to keep up what it costs to keep a store going. Licenses, taxes, employees. So he’s given up. Just take that and multiply it by the shoe stores, by the hardware stores, the sporting goods, the T-shirt shops up in Roseland, there’s about a mile of little, I guess you would call them mom-and-pop, but you know, individual businesses including jewelry stores and telephone stores, electronics. They’re all gonna be knocked out when the big store comes.

Now it’s not only one big store that they’re proposing over here on the east end of Pullman, but now maybe they’re going to put a mid-size or a smaller store a half a mile or a mile and a half away on the other side of the neighborhood. And that’ll be it.

I talked to our hardware store, the one hardware store that’s hanging on in this neighborhood. He operated at a loss in 2009. I said, Well, how is it this year? He said, I’m doing a little bit better, I’m just operating on such small margins I’m lucky to keep these people working. And he points out three, four employees in the store. I talk to him about the Wal-Mart and he said, That will be it.

It’s so ironic it’s pathetic. The site where this is being proposed was formally part of the Pullman Manufacturing Company, the Palace Car Company, the, it was a Steel Workers Union Local 1834 and it had an honorary name after Eugene Debs. How ironic is it going to be that we have a strongly anti-union—union-busting, horrible track record as far as employee issues. . . . It’s particularly galling that they intend to open over here and that some of the people in this neighborhood are hoodwinked into that Wal-Mart culture.

Of course they have done an amazing, enormous PR campaign. I know people over here that probably gained a few pounds in the past six months because of all the dinners and lunches and breakfasts and balloons and knickknacks and stuff they’ve been given by the cooperation. They’ve been courted by them, and have gotten on this bandwagon and believed that if we don’t get Wal-Mart then we’re not going to have anything.  We’ve got to do this: it’s now or never. All the clichés, and all the hoopla and lies, fraudulent ads in the paper saying Pullman wants Wal-Mart, Pullman needs Wal-Mart, people from here have to go all the way to Country Club Hills for fresh produce. We talked to people around here. Most of the people in this community don’t know where Country Club Hills is. For them to take a full-page ad in the Chicago Sun-Times that Pullman people have to go to Country Club Hills to get fresh foods is bald-faced lie.

And you know they get away with it, and the Sun-Times have endorsed them of course, and so has the Trib, because they spend so much money and they can steer opinion. That’s what we’re up against here.

But the issue about the labor, this traditionally has been a strong union area. I know that unions are much less strong today and the numbers have dwindled, less than 15% or something of people across the country are union members, and today there are very few jobs and very few union jobs. Mayor Daley was on the early morning news, and he was talking about the jobs that this was gonna bring: It’s gonna bring jobs, it’s gonna bring jobs, we need development. Well, it used to be we would believe, what’s the saying about a rising tide raising all ships? Here we want to lower the standard. People working at Wal-Mart can’t afford to raise a family, to pay a mortgage or rent, they have to be two-income households without a doubt, or hold two jobs per person to be able to achieve that today.

I’ve seen a study from Loyola University and another one from University of Chicago, I think, that recently came out. One deals with the Wal-Mart that’s on the West Side and how many jobs have were gained as opposed to lost, and it’s pretty much a wash when you count the businesses that have had to close because of Wal-Mart, or people that have left those jobs and came to Wal-Mart.

So you have two studies out there that prove there’s not a real gain in jobs. We formed a little group here in Pullman to try to combat this and try to enlighten people. We also attempted to get an audience with the developers and the local bank here, which is now US Bank, one of the five major banks that are taking over everything in the country, but which was originally the Pullman Bank. We talked to our old bank friends about the concerns that we have but they wouldn’t meet with us.

So in this very room we had a community meeting to enlighten people, and we had an employee of Wal-Mart talking about the horrible conditions working for the Wal-Mart company, and the poor benefits, the poor rate of pay, some of the horrific stories of how they treated employees. And then as a contrast, a Jewel employee talking about her pension and what the union has done for her over 23 years or something like that. We had people in this room who said, Wow, we just didn’t know. We showed a film that interviewed people across the country who had experiences with Wal-Mart, you know being locked inside a store, or being fired for even breathing a word that begins with U, signifying union. People talking about how one person died because Wal-Mart told her she would be fired if she took a sick day to go to the doctor, and she died of something, I think a massive brain hemorrhage or something. Folks were aghast, and somebody really needs to tell that story. The newspapers aren’t doing such a good job at it.

But that’s the thing. Folks are hearing one side. It’s like going up against any major cooperation. We see BP doing it right now because they have egg all over their face for the disaster down in the Gulf, and what are they doing? They’re embarking on a big PR campaign.