In the early 80's, mass merchants began to dominate the retail landscape. It was the retail equivalent of strip mining. A mass merchant would find a suitable property, get the necessary permits and within months small retailers would begin to disappear and your neighbors would show up in brightly colored smocks with name tags on them.
There was an early revolution by municipalities who argued that mass merchants like Wal-Mart and K-Mart were taking the money out of the community that former small retailer owners kept in the community and that wages were poor. In spite of the protests, the future came anyway.
Today, there is a sameness in much of the country, where superstores dominate selling everything from shot guns to pasta sauce. Even as Wall-Mart and K-Mart are painted with the same brush, somehow Target has been able to keep itself out of the fray…until now. Now, Target, best known for stylish merchandise at a discounted price is embroiled in a battle as the United Food and Commercial Workers are making moves to help Target employees unionize. A group of employees invited the help, claiming they simply can't make ends meet working on the wages paid by Target.
Target, in move that can't have been well thought out, was showing employees a tacky anti-union video that in addition to being poorly cast, badly written and too long; most likely will become a public relations nightmare. Unions have always been strongest and most successful when wages, working conditions and other quality-of-life issues are suspect.
Target, has a wonderful record of philanthropy and seemingly has a lot of other things going for it from an employee standpoint. That is why it I so puzzling they would resort to propaganda. Over the past 30 years, as mass merchants have become more powerful they have all but dictated pricing and in some cases packaging to manufacturers threatening "delisting" that is removal from consideration to be stocked on the shelves to manufacturers who don't yield to their demands. Now, with the shoe on the other foot, it will be interesting to see how Target behaves towards its more than 350,000 employees in 1,755 stores.
The video is likely surfacing on the Internet now because employees at a Target store in Valley Stream, N.Y., will vote on Friday whether to unionize. If they vote affirmatively, that store will be the first to organize. That could be unprecedented for large retailers, which are often criticized for low wages.
"Once a company has a legally organized union, that union becomes a co-manager with the company over wages, hours and working conditions," Douglas McCabe, a labor relations professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, told the Star Tribune.
Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder told ABCNews.com that this is "an old video that is no longer shared and has not been shared with the Valley Stream team members." She added that this video "was in use from approximately 2003 to 2008 as a part of our employee communications."
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Larry Woodard is a director on the Advertising Week board and chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies' New York Council.
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