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By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

A group seeking to ban big-box stores in most of Keizer is getting help from labor unions.

Both the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 and Marion-Polk-Yamhill Labor Council – a subsidiary of American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) – have given $1,000 each to Keep Keizer Livable’s efforts to place the ban on the ballot.

In addition, Keep Keizer Livable has opened a new office in Schoolhouse Square near River and Chemawa roads. They have been conducting petition circulating training to gather more than 2,800 signatures to place big box restrictions on the ballot in 2011.

The prospective initiative would ban any stores larger than 65,000 square feet anywhere within the city of Keizer except in Keizer Station’s Area A – the developed retail portion where Target, Lowe’s and others currently operate.

Thus far, the city’s elections officer has determined the prospective initiative complies with the Oregon Constitution, and the deadline for challenging the ballot title passed at 5 p.m. Monday, Aug. 16.

It’s gotten little love from Keizer’s elected officials so far – Mayor Lore Christopher has already said she wouldn’t support such a ban – but is getting a boost from labor.

Jeff Anderson, secretary & treasurer of UFCW 555 – and also a Keizer resident who opposed building a big box in Keizer Station’s Area C – said the union’s interest is in “preserving communities, having local, family-wage jobs that provide affordable healthcare and safe pensions.”
In addition, he said his union represents some or all of the employees at Roth’s Fresh Markets, Safeway and Albertson’s. They also represent all employees of Fred Meyer.

He said Wal-Mart in particular “is the number one predator, not a competitor” and said the company shifts costs like employee  health care onto taxpayers via publicly-funded healthcare programs.

“Much of the retail industry does not provide affordable health care to their employees,” Anderson said. “Very few actually offer pensions. So there’s a spiral down when you expand big boxes into communities, you actually also lower the wages of the community that you enter.”

Joe Munger, president of the Marion-Polk-Yamhill Central Labor Council, said council members chose last week to support the idea. He said the council represents more than 9,000 members in its three-county area.

“Keep Keizer Livable came out and talked to us,” Munger said. “They were very passionate about what they are doing … the whole mission they were talking about resonated with many of our members.

“It’s obviously near to our hearts to make sure we don’t end up the same as the factory farms… where a few players own everything,” he added.

As did Anderson, he singled out Wal-Mart, saying he “wishes they would be a lot fairer to their employees. I wish they would choose American-made products … centrally located and cheap is a good idea, but it comes at a cost, I think.”