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US: Union Zeroes in on Target

by Chris SerresStar Tribune
March 29th, 2005

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."

 





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