US: Union Zeroes in on Target

Publisher Name: 
Star Tribune

An international labor union that has launched organizing drives at Wal-Mart is now taking aim at Target Corp.

The
United Food and Commercial Workers has been quietly laying the
groundwork for a major organizing campaign at Target's store in West
St. Paul, which the union hopes will become the first of Target's 1,330
stores to unionize.

Over the past five weeks, the union has
distributed hundreds of leaflets to West St. Paul residents claiming
that Target pays substandard wages and health benefits to its workers.
And Monday, UFCW Local 789 in St. Paul issued a statement protesting
the $731,000 in local tax breaks that Target received to redevelop the
West St. Paul store.

The goal is to create a groundswell of
opposition to Target before the West St. Paul store reopens this fall
as a SuperTarget, said Bernie Hesse, a union organizer with Local 789
of St. Paul, which represents 7,500 workers in the Twin Cities area.

"We
want to have people in those stores, organizing, on the day it opens
and we want the [West St. Paul] community to support us," he said.

Target
spokeswoman Paula Thornton-Greear said that the company offers a wage
and benefit package that is "among the best in the retail industry" and
that workers don't need a union. "We don't believe that a union or any
third-party representative would improve anything, not for our team
members, guests or the company," Thornton-Greear said.

Though
unions have long complained about working standards at Target, the
Minneapolis-based retail chain has managed to avoid the sort of
criticism and persistent organizing efforts that have plagued Wal-Mart
since the 1980s.

Union organizers in the U.S. and Canada have
accused Wal-Mart of using force and intimidation to prevent organized
labor from forming a beachhead in its stores. Last month, Wal-Mart said
it would close a store in Jonquiere, Quebec, where 200 workers were
close to winning the first union contract at the retail giant.

Yet
officials with Local 789 say Target, like its larger competitor, does
not pay its workers enough to live. Workers at the company's stores in
the Twin Cities typically make $7 to $10 an hour, according to informal
wage surveys done by Local 789 of employees that have left the company.
Less than half the company's workers are covered by Target's health
insurance plan, the union estimates.

Thornton-Greear could neither confirm nor deny these numbers.

"The
only difference between Target and Wal-Mart is that Wal-Mart is six
times their size," Hesse said. "Target was once the darling of the
state, but now they've adopted Wal-Mart's business model and are in a
race to the bottom as far as wages and benefits."

The union is
urging local residents to voice their opposition to the city of West
St. Paul's decision to grant Target $731,000 in tax-increment financing
-- in which the retailer does not have to pay taxes on the increased
value of the site created by its conversion to a SuperTarget. As part
of the deal, Target has agreed to create 19 new jobs at the SuperTarget.

"You
can do the math," Hesse said. "That's $38,000 a job for a company that
does not need monetary incentives to renovate its stores."

John
Zanmiller, mayor of West St. Paul, said the tax increment financing was
necessary to keeping Target in the city. "We're competing with
outer-ring suburbs that are using [tax increment financing] to pave
over cornfields," he said. "I'm convinced that, had we not done it,
then another city would have come forward" and lured Target away.

Local
789 plans to launch an organizing blitz this fall, in which teams of
union members will walk into the store in West St. Paul to talk to
workers until management throws them out. The union also plans to
engage in a practice called "salting," in which Local 789 members will
apply for work at the store.

Hesse said Local 789 chose the West
St. Paul store because it is surrounded by unionized retail chains,
including Rainbow Foods, Cub Foods and Snyders.

"Our kind of
people live in West St. Paul," Hesse said. "It ain't North Oaks. It
ain't Edina. It's a real working-class, inner-ring suburb, and that's
our base."

 

AMP Section Name:Retail & Mega-Stores
  • 184 Labor