SEIU PLEDGES $1 MILLION TO SUPPORT WAL-MART WORKERS

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Service Employees International Union at its international convention here pledged $1 million to local and national groups seeking to improve working conditions at Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark."Wal-Mart is leading the way in corporations' drive to lower pay and benefit standards everywhere," said SEIU President Andrew Stern at the conference. "We must help lead the worldwide

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Service Employees International Union at its international convention here pledged $1 million to local and national groups seeking to improve working conditions at Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark.

"Wal-Mart is leading the way in corporations' drive to lower pay and benefit standards everywhere," said SEIU President Andrew Stern at the conference. "We must help lead the worldwide fight for justice. So I will be asking you to make a $1 million investment from SEIU to start up a new network of workers and communities, united to bring Wal-Mart's standards up instead of bringing everyone else's down."

Stern encouraged the creation of a new global campaign called "Wal-Mart. No Bargain!" It will focus on the negative impact Wal-Mart has on communities.

"Wal-Mart's low prices cost too much," he said in the speech, a copy of which was obtained by SN. "They cost workers too much, and small businesses, communities and nations too much."

A spokesman for the Washington-based union told SN last week the SEIU is "not trying to organize Wal-Mart," but is seeking to prevent Wal-Mart's employment practices from spreading to other industries like traditional food retailing. He said specific plans for dispensing the $1 million are not finalized.

SEIU delegates at the convention approved the spending, which will be sourced from a portion of members' dues designated for organizing activities, according to Stephen Lerner, the SEIU spokesman.

"It will be part of a broad effort to support groups that are trying to tackle the issue of the Wal-Martization of the economy," he said. "Our efforts are to work with other organizations that think the overall employment practices at Wal-Mart need to be addressed."

The SEIU also has had run-ins with the supermarket industry. It filed a class-action suit against Albertsons, Boise, Idaho, in 2000, alleging the company did not treat its cleaning employees in accord with state and federal labor laws.

Lerner said the effort at Wal-Mart is meant to improve working conditions for all Wal-Mart workers.

"It's not specifically about the cleaners," he said. "It's all part of a broader picture."