Big Labor Flexes Its Muscles Against… Charitable Giving In NYC?

Katie Packer Gage Executive Director, Workforce Fairness Institute
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When New York City resident Deborah Moses got out of prison, she needed help. Deborah came from a good family and had held a good job as a law firm’s receptionist before she was charged with manslaughter after defending herself in a domestic violence incident. But when she got out of prison, eager to get her life back together, she came back to nothing – no job and no place to live. So Deborah turned to the Back to Work Program in the Bronx, which helped her get back on her feet. She was able to find not only a job, but a home of her own as well. “Being … at the bottom and building myself back up once again,” Deborah said in a promotional video for the program, “my life has changed tremendously.”

If big labor and their allies on the New York City Council had their way, New Yorkers like Deborah Moses might not be so fortunate.

The Back to Work program that helped Deborah is run by the Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey, one of several New York City charities which have received donations from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. All in all, Wal-Mart donated some $3 million to charitable organizations in the city last year.

Last week, Crain’s New York Business reported that a union front group, the Big Labor muscle behind it and the politicians in their back pockets are calling on Wal-Mart to cease its charitable activity and, in the words of City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, “stay out of New York City.” Speaker Mark-Viverito and twenty-six of her colleagues – over half the council – signed what they referred to as “a cease-and-desist letter” to Wal-Mart, demanding that the company “stop spending … dangerous dollars in our city.”

These “dangerous dollars” donated by Wal-Mart last year went to such terrifyingly controversial charities as Goodwill, the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, Iris House and City Harvest, according to the Crain’sreport. City Harvest picks up nearly 126,000 pounds of leftover food from restaurants and grocery stores every day and delivers it to places like food banks, where it can be distributed to the hungry instead of going to waste.

Iris House serves women and families living with HIV and AIDS, while also providing family-centered HIV/AIDS prevention education. They’ve pushed back against the City Council, stating in a tweet to Speaker Mark-Viverito that Wal-Mart dollars helped provide over 10,000 meals at Iris House this year.

In her initial statement upon the release of the letter to Wal-Mart, the Speaker derided the company’s charitable giving as “a cynical public-relations campaign.” Yet the current of cynicism from the anti-charity forces of big labor runs far, far deeper.

Crain’s uncovered an internal memo from a group called “Walmart-Free NYC,” which is supported by major unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Their memo calls for the release of an open letter to Wal-Mart on June 4, strategically planned to coincide with Wal-Mart’s annual shareholders’ meeting, with the lofty activist goal of “garnering strong press attention.” Walmart-Free NYC offers the letter for review and states that “the goal is to get as many Council Members as possible to sign it and then release it on June 4 at a City Hall press conference” – complete with, “for dramatic effect, a ripped up and cancelled check from the Walton Family to New York City.” Which, of course, is exactly what the Council did, giant check and all.

Nothing gives anyone on the New York City Council the right to accuse Wal-Mart of “cynicism” when they take their marching orders straight from big labor. Unions may be sclerotic organizations with drying-up funds grasping for any shred of relevance they can find, but for them to demand that a company with which they disagree “cease and desist” their charitable work is narrow-minded and wrong. And for politicians to blindly follow, at the expense of some of the most vulnerable people in their community, is nothing less than a betrayal of the public trust.

Katie Packer Gage