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Up against the Wal-Mart

By PAT JENKINS

The Mirror

The Wal-Mart supercenter scheduled to open next year in Federal Way isn't welcome by all.

Similar to some receptions of the giant retailer in other communities nationwide, the new store is the subject of a public meeting scheduled for tomorrow on claims about negative impacts from Wal-Mart's influence.

Supercenters like the one planned for the southeast part of town can drive out other retailers, strain local services such as roads and utilities, and have large workforces with low-wage, no-benefit jobs that force some employees to seek public assistance, according to Joe Earleywine, a labor union official and organizer of resistance to Wal-Mart.

He said Wal-Mart "must be held accountable to the community," which is the purpose for tomorrow's meeting at 7 p.m. at the Round Table Pizza restaurant in Federal Way at 1414 S. 324th St.

Sarah Bright, who's helping Earleywine organize the meeeting, said she hopes citizens will band together to convince Wal-Mart not to build the new store, even though it's been approved by city officials.

The store is expected to open by the fall or winter of 2006 as part of Federal Way Marketplace, a retail center planned by developer Jeffrey Oliphant for the northeast corner of Southeast 348th Street and 16th Avenue South. Ground has been broken already for the project.

The Wal-Mart will employ about 400 people, most of them full-time and earning "competitive" wages, according to company officials. The average wage for hourly workers in Washington is $10.14.

Federal Way already has one Wal-Mart, which opened six years ago about two miles from where the new store will be built. The primary difference between them is that the new supercenter will have a full-line grocery department.

Earleywine, a representative of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1001, stressed that tomorrow's meeting isn't a union event or part of an effort to unionize future employees of the new store.

"I doubt we'll organize" the workers, he said. "We just want to emphasize the economic impacts of what Wal-Mart does."

Bright, a checkout clerk for Safeway and a member of UFCW, said as retail stores close because of competition from Wal-Mart, their workers sometimes turn to Wal-Mart for jobs that don't provide employee benefits, resulting in more public subsidizing. It's a circle of local economic trouble that Federal Way can't afford, she claimed.

"It's not like the economy here is all that great to begin with," Bright said.

Earleywine said the closure of a QFC grocery store in Federal Way last month "could be an example of a company with benefits and higher salaries for its workers" that have trouble competing with Wal-Mart.

QFC officials have said the closure May 28 of five of their stores, including the Federal Way outlet, was the result of low sales.

Another local of UFCW represented the QFC workers.

Plans for the Federal Way Marketplace and the accompanying Wal-Mart have been approved by city officials. But Earleywine's criticism is the same as objections to Wal-Mart projects in other cities. Last week, developer Brent McKinley withdrew plans for building a Wal-Mart in Stanwood that was opposed by more than 3,000 people who signed petitions, according to news reports. The Stanwood Planning Commission voted against it, claiming the store would harm other businesses and cause traffic snarls.

A regional spokesman for Wal-Mart couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

Wal-Mart is the world's biggest retailer, with annual sales figures totaling more than $200 billion, 1 million-plus employees and more than 3,200 stores.

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565, editor@fedwaymirror.com

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