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Eye-opening documentary on Walmart shows disconnect between PR and the truth

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Documentary: "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price"

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Shopping at Walmart offers convenience, low prices, and a lot of variety. I finally succumbed after years of resistance to occasionally shopping at Walmart. After all, they were touting that they had local produce, some organic. And their employment policies did not automatically exclude people with criminal records, pretty progressive in the USA. Walmart's spin of stories on discriminatory employment practices was covered by the media, suggesting these were rarities. Money talks and advertising pays big, I guess.

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No more shopping there for me. My eyes have been completely opened after watching "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price." (2005) Filmmaker and Director Robert Greenwald contrasts Walmart's "message" with the truth, and it is appalling to see the big picture. This film is a special screening at The Guild Theater Saturday, July 19 at 12:30 pm only. Details about tickets are at the end of this review.

The film opens with President and CEO (at the time) Lee Scott giving pie-in-the-sky speeches at an annual meeting attended by both Walmart workers and the uppity-ups. He brags of record sales and earnings. The crowd cheers. Lee says they are "doing the right thing and doing things right every time."

Why then, is the Hunter family's small business - a hardware store in Middlefield, Ohio that lasted generations - now dust in the wind? Can Walmart justify the closing of small town businesses after it appears, decimating downtowns?

Why does Walmart received tax-funded subsidies to add their big box stores? School teachers and fire fighters show that their budgets are cut when Walmart gets public money and publicly-funded infrastructure (roads, streetlights, sanitation, and so on).

Why are employees encouraged by Walmart's own personnel departments (as a matter of corporate policy) to apply for Medicaid, food stamps, and public assistance? Answer: because their annual wages at the time of the documentary were in the $13,000 range. There are stories of (and lawsuits on behalf of) employees forced to clock out but to continue working so that overtime wouldn't have to be paid.

This refreshing documentary tells the stories of real people, not "experts." Josh Noble, at one time thrilled with his job, becomes a union organizer after enduring less than ideal working conditions and only a $1.07 hourly raise after his 3rd year of loyal service. Edith Arana describes the lack of affordable health insurance and the point-blank statement to her that her race and sex were preventing her from being promoted.

Small business owners talk about how the intrusion of Walmart led to the decline and closing of their businesses. Chinese workers discuss their exploitation and being forced to lie about their hours. A Walmart manager is dismayed when his attempts to improve the conditions for Honduran workers are completely disregarded. Customers who were crime victims due to the lack of security outside the stores get treated shabbily. People who are trying to fight Walmart's efforts to build in their neighborhoods have David-versus-Goliath stories to tell.

This film will give you pause next time you pass - or enter - Walmart. Forget the ads showing Walmart as a responsible and caring presence in a community. Think about the billionaires it has created while treating and paying employees poorly, ensuring that a number of them must draw public benefits to support their families.

Wonder about why employees contribute annually millions of their own hard-earned dollars to an emergency fund for other Walmart employees caught up in disasters (tornados, floods, and such) while the billionaire Waltons contribute just a few thousand dollars to this same fund.

These stories of workers, many of whom were at one time loyal employees, are heart-breaking. The destruction of small businesses likewise is truly disturbing. Walmart's surreptitious efforts to resist unionization, spending fortunes rather than paying living wages, is despicable.

Some appalling statistics are interspersed between the interviews, but the film ends surprisingly on a note of optimism. This inside look at one of the largest and wealthiest corporations should not be missed.

This weekend is your chance to see it. It is screening one time only, at 12:30 pm, Saturday July 19 at The Guild Cinema, 3405 Central Avenue NE in Albuquerque.

It is sponsored by the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). For advance tickets call Kelley at (505)850-3163 or Sharon at (505)410-7780. More detail is on The Guild Cinema website.

Sources: The Guild Cinema website on the film's screening, IMdb for the documentary

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