Latest Criminal Scourge: Wal-Mart Openings

On Tuesday of last week, a West St. Paul police officer stopped by the offices of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789. The cop wanted to know if the union, which represents grocery workers in the east metro area, had any plans to protest or otherwise disrupt the next day's grand opening of a Wal-Mart store on South Robert Street.

That same afternoon, another West St. Paul officer paid a visit to the Rainbow Foods grocery store, which is located directly adjacent to the new Wal-Mart, to make similar inquiries. This time the cop was accompanied by a Wal-Mart manager. According to Bernie Hesse, an organizer with Local 789, the pair threatened to arrest any union members who protested on Wal-Mart property.

"I don't like the appearance of it," Hesse says. "Are they working for Wal-Mart? They don't have to do their bidding. If Wal-Mart wants to hire some private security guards up there, so be it."

For several years now, as Wal-Mart's presence in the region has mushroomed--there are now 10 outlets in the greater Twin Cities area--store openings have regularly been targeted by protesters. Local 789 and other Wal-Mart critics have sought to highlight the retailing behemoth's anti-union practices and meager wages and benefits. The union has held numerous demonstrations at Wal-Mart outlets in Inver Grove Heights and St. Paul's Midway neighborhood, and regularly leaflets stores in an attempt to organize workers.

West St. Paul Deputy Chief Manila "Bud" Shaver insists that there was nothing sinister about the police visits and that the officers weren't working at the behest of Wal-Mart. "We don't take sides," Shaver says. "We're there to protect the public at large and keep the peace."

Shaver says that the store opening transpired without incident. "We didn't have 200 cops standing down there," he notes. "There wasn't a need for it. But we were prepared if something developed. All we're trying to do is keep civil disobedience from happening."

Hesse says that Local 789 doesn't currently have any activities planned for the West St. Paul store, but he makes no promises about the future. "When we do something, it's going to be very constructive, it's going to be very fun, and it will probably be lawful," he says.

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