Wal-Mart’s Good (and Bad) Sides

Wal-Mart’s Good (and Bad) Sides

Opposition to Wal-Mart in a community can invigorate progressive politics and expose entrenched politicians as vision-free hacks.

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Bright Lights in Edison

People often ask, Is there a good side to Wal-Mart? Sometimes there is: Opposition to Wal-Mart in a community can invigorate progressive politics and expose entrenched politicians as vision-free hacks. That’s what happened last week in Edison, New Jersey, where progressive Wal-Mart opponent Jun Choi handily defeated incumbent Mayor George Spadoro, whom voters held responsible for a proposed (unpopular) Wal-Mart store, in the city’s Democratic primary last Wednesday. Choi will face Republican and Independent opponents in the November election. But in this heavily Democratic town, it’s likely that he’ll become mayor.

Seed of Scalia

Now back to Wal-Mart’s downsides: coziness with the far right and a vicious disregard for the laws of the land. On Friday, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that Rickey Armstrong, who was fired from Wal-Mart’s Dallas optical plant in March, will file a whistleblower claim with the Department of Labor, alleging that he was dismissed for reporting wrongdoing at the plant. That same week, the paper reported that Wal-Mart had hired Eugene Scalia, spawn of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to defend the company in whistleblower cases, including a Labor Department complaint filed by Jared Bowen, a Wal-Mart vice president who was fired in April after reporting former vice chairman Tom Coughlin’s funny expense accounts. Under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, workers can’t be fired for exposing company wrongdoing. Interestingly enough, Eugene Scalia served as solicitor general in the Bush Administration’s Department of Labor, where he tried to drastically weaken such protections for whistleblowers. (If he’d had his way, whistleblowers would have been protected from retaliation only if they disclosed information to a member of Congress. How many workers have a politician on their speed-dial?) After Scalia left the Labor Department, then-Acting Solicitor Howard Radzely–a Bush appointee–reversed Scalia’s decision.

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