Wal-Mart Set To Open To
January 26, 2005
By OSHRAT CARMIEL, Courant Staff Writer
Wal-Mart is opening a new store today Hartford.
That much everybody agrees on.
It's located on the site of the former Charter Oak Terrace housing project, and
when doors open for business at 7:30 a.m., at least some of the 350 employees
inside will be erstwhile tenants of that dangerous complex.
But as with the opening of many Wal-Mart stores, there is dissension: is the
new business an important job opportunity for Hartford residents, a great place
to buy lawn furniture, or a corporation that cuts costs at the expense of its
The answer will depend whether you're standing inside or outside the store come
Inside, there'll be employees like Codi Davis, 20, who is grateful for his full-time
job as a stocker in the new store. He grew up in Hartford, attended high school
in Farmington and says it has been tough finding work. Wal-Mart couldn't have
come along soon enough, he said Tuesday, as his mom, Carolyn, stood by him, proud.
"The opening of this Wal-Mart is helping me get started on my goals, being financially
secure, getting a house, taking care of my family," Davis said.
Outside the store, the view is different. There, by the entrance, members of
the Connecticut Working Families plan to be peacefully protesting what they claim
are Wal-Mart's inadequate employee benefits. They will do that by holding a bake
sale, selling brownies to raise money for Wal-Mart employees to buy health coverage.
"My health care was really crappy," said Jennifer Berberena, 19, who until last
week was a cashier at the Rocky Hill Wal-Mart. "I was paying $97.50 biweekly
for health care and it was just for me."
"The workers have very, very expensive co-insurance and co-pay," said Jon Green,
executive director of Connecticut Working Families. "It's a challenge for folks
who are making eight bucks an hour."
Green's group, a coalition of unions and advocates for the working class, will
distribute fliers to employees and sympathetic customers as they enter the store.
Their efforts are being backed by the city, which last month passed an unusual
ordinance that allows for demonstrations, protests or any other exercise of free
speech on the outskirts of the Wal-Mart.
The ordinance makes protesting and union organizing outside large retail stores
legal - a big deal for a store like Wal-Mart, which is well-known for its opposition
to unions. So long as the demonstrators alert the city police department and
fill out the requisite form, they are free to promote their message without fear
of being handcuffed or shooed off the property.
Though Wal-Mart lawyers have vowed to challenge the ordinance, Davis said it
won't affect work life inside.
"Regardless of what they say, it's already here, it's done," he said. `They can't
stop what's already in motion."
Eddie Simmons, the store manager, preferred Tuesday to talk about what would
be going on inside the Hartford store. With 155,000 square feet, it is the largest
among the chain's Connecticut stores that do not have full-fledged supermarkets
inside, he said.
"I think I walk about 10 to 15 miles a day in here," Simmons said, as he made
final rounds of the garden center, the vision center, the pharmacy, the auto
shop and the nail salon, all located inside the store.
The store also has a semblance of a supermarket, with its aisles and aisles of
nonperishable and frozen foods - everything except fresh produce, meat and a
Simmons and regional mangers hosted an in-house celebration Tuesday night, marking
the birth of store number 5,095.
Store employees - Wal-Mart prefers to call them "associates" - brought their
families to the party, taking them on tour of the aisles they stocked and the
floors they mopped to get the store ready.
That's why Codi Davis' mom was there.
"Our little secret is that this may be his only job," Carolyn Davis said. "He
may stay here forever. He's going to own his own store someday."
"Maybe this one," Codi said. "Why not? It's in my hometown."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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